With the excitement of the 2012 Formula One drivers' championship going down to the last race, many fans may have forgotten that one of the sport's biggest young talents remains on the sidelines.
The end of the 2012 season marked the second missed by Robert Kubica, who was injured in a devastating crash while rallying in Italy almost two years ago. At the time of the crash, the likeable and massively talented Polish driver had been pegged by many as a future world champion.
Unfortunately, Kubica revealed in an interview published last week by AutoWeek that despite surgery to help improve his right arm's range of motion, a return to grand prix racing continues to be an unattainable goal.
"The main problem is the mobility of my elbow and wrist," he told AutoWeek.
"I still find it difficult to move my right arm. I had several operations that were meant to improve this issue, but there's not been a spectacular improvement. If I can move my arm again, there is a chance that I will return, but until that happens, we'll have to see. There's no chance of me coming back to Formula One soon."
The lack of flexibility in his right arm means he cannot twist his hand to steer the car; instead, he must raise and lower his entire arm to move the wheel. While not an issue in the large passenger compartment of a rally car, there is no way Kubica would be able to use the same technique in a matchbox-sized F1 cockpit.
The former BMW-Sauber and Lotus driver has been on the road to recovery since an Armco barrier sliced through the floor of his car and almost severed his right arm near the elbow in a February 2011 accident.
The chaotic 2012 F1 season began with seven different winners in the first seven races as the teams tried to get the Pirelli tires. It ended with a season finale championship showdown between Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso with the former emerging victorious.
There's no reason to believe that a healthy Kubica would have been right in the middle of the action this year, especially since Lotus driver Kimi Räikkönen won this year in the late stages of the season.
While his performances on track are enough to want him back, Kubica is also missed for his refreshing and genuine personality. Kubica remained unaffected by his rise to the pinnacle of motorsport; he was thankful for the chance to race in F1 and completely understood the privilege of his position.
Kubica, who turned 28 last week, returned to rally racing this year and has shown the same incredible speed he used to take one win, one pole and 12 podiums in 76 Formula One starts. His best year was in 2008 with BMW Sauber, where he challenged for the drivers' championship and ended the year tied with Räikkönen for third overall.
The Kraków native joined the BMW Sauber team as a Friday test driver in 2006 after winning the World Series by Renault 3.5 title a year earlier. In July 2006, he graduated to the race seat vacated by Canadian Jacques Villeneuve who fell out of favour and left the team after the German Grand Prix. The rookie scored his first F1 podium in only his third start, finishing third in the 2006 Italian Grand Prix.
Canadian fans may also remember Kubica best as the driver who walked away from a spectacular high-speed crash at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. His car was forced off the track in the run-up to the hairpin at about 300 kilometres per hour and careened into a concrete retaining wall. It somersaulted down the track, tossing all parts in all directions as it rolled and finally came to a stop beside the fence on the outside of the entry to the 180-degree corner at the East end of the track.
Amazingly, Kubica's worst injury in the crash was a concussion that kept him out of the next race in Indianapolis before he returned to the cockpit a month later at the French Grand Prix. The driver who filled in for Kubica and made his F1 race debut at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway was now triple world champion Vettel, who used the opportunity to become the youngest racer to ever score an F1 point.
While he escaped serious injury in Montreal, Kubica also found glory in Canada when he raced to his only F1 win at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve almost exactly a year after his accident. He moved to Lotus in 2010 after BMW left the sport at the end of the previous season. The Polish driver raced only one year with Lotus and whether he will ever be back with the team is anybody's guess.
One thing is for sure: Kubica knows that his pace in rally races proves he's still the same fast driver who was a rising star in F1 and that simple fact only makes him miss grand prix racing even more.
"When I got back behind the wheel last year and realized that my speed remains the same, that's when it all started – now I find it quite hard to watch F1 on TV," he said.
"When I'm at home on a Sunday evening after an F1 race, I think I'm living a boring and monotonous life. On the other hand, you cannot get everything you desire out of life. I'm happy about where I am today. I need to keep working, keep fighting. I'm getting better, but you need a lot of time to fully recover from something like this."
Canadians may be out of luck with special Bruno BMW
A few lucky – and wealthy – BMW customers will soon be able to see what it feels like to drive Bruno Spengler's Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters M3, although fans in his home country may be out of luck.
BMW announced last week that 54 black metallic DTM Champion Edition BMW M3s signed by Spengler himself will be made available worldwide to celebrate the Canadian's championship season.
The car's paint scheme is modelled after Spengler's BMW Bank racer which he drove to the DTM title by winning the 2012 season finale in October. He topped Mercedes' Gary Paffett in the championship standings by four points.
While owning what will likely be the coolest car on the block is attractive enough, the 54 buyers will also get a spot in a special "BMW M Fascination Nordschleife" driving school at the famed Nurburgring Circuit with Spengler as their instructor.
While Spengler became the first Canadian to win a professional European driving championship since Jacques Villeneuve took the 1997 Formula One world title, it has not yet been decided whether the car will be available in this country.
Spengler joined BMW this year and led its return to DTM after a 20-year absence. In all, the Canadian won four of 10 races in 2012 and surprised many by taking the title in his first season with BMW in what was supposed to be a learning year for the manufacturer.
Production of the Spengler DTM M3 is set to begin in February. The car is goes for €99,000 including taxes in Germany, which is about $126,000.
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