Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo greeted returning driver Robert Kubica with a warm applause on the eve of his first Grand Prix weekend for eight years.
Kubica was injured on February 2011 in a crash on the first stage of the Ronde di Andora rally. The pole was driving a Super 2000-specification Skoda Fabia in Testico, when his car left the road at high speed and hit a crash barrier.
He was trapped in the car for more than an hour before rescue workers were able to extricate him and suffered partial amputation of his forearm, compound fractures to his right elbow and shoulder, as well as significant loss of blood.
The former Sauber and Renault driver almost ruled out ever returning to motorsport, but is set to make an emotional comeback this weekend in Melbourne after an eight-year hiatus.
The Pole won the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix for BMW Sauber and was almost recruited by Williams for the 2018 season but was passed over in favour of Russian Sergei Sirotkin.
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Sirotkin was then dropped at the end of last season after being persuaded that Kubica was healthy enough to make a triumphant return to the grid.
The 34-year-old’s injuries mean he cannot grip a steering wheel in the conventional way with his right hand, on which his fingers do not fully close, and certain controls for the car have to be re-sited as a result.
However, he insists that he is able to drive competitively despite what he refers to as his ‘limitations,’ although he has stated that he is unsure if he will be able to reach the heights of the sport that he did prior to the accident.
Kubica sat alongside the iconic quartet of Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Red Bull drivers at a press conference before the season’s curtain-raiser.
Ricciardo, in his home country, appeared jubilant when discussing the return of his Polish rival and led the ovation for the inspirational driver at the press conference.
“It’s awesome to see him back here. I’ve known him from when I moved here back in 2007,” said Ricciardo.
“It’s just a testament to his character and I won’t ask for everyone to applaud but really I think it’s awesome for him to be here.”
The Krakow-born speedster has been partnered with British rookie George Russell at Williams and was in good spirits at the podium joking that he had enjoyed a longer winter break than most.
“It has been a really long time away from the sport. Not really a lot of time to think about emotions. You are focused on the job and learn as much as you can about the new F1 and trying to be ready,” said Kubica per the Daily Mail.
“We didn’t have a perfect start to winter testing so there are a lot of things to be checked to see how they will be. There are still things to sort out and then guys are pushing really hard.
“There is no point in wasting energy and time thinking of difficult moments, we just need to do our job.”