The 2008 Canadian Grand Prix witnessed the only Grand Prix win for talented Polish driver Robert Kubica, and also the only win for Sauber, then in the guise of BMW-Sauber.
At the time Kubica was highly regarded within the paddock as one of the top talents on the grid, while BMW-Sauber were a team with championship aspirations. Sadly, this would prove to be the high point for both, with Kubica’s F1 career derailed before the start of the 2011 season due to injuries he sustained after a crash at the Ronde di Andorra rally, while BMW would pull the plug on their F1 activities at the end of 2009, selling the team back to former owner Peter Sauber, with the outfit clinging to survival ever since.
Just as an aside, it is reported that Robert will be testing an F1 car again today in Valencia. The first time he’s driven an F1 car since end of his grand prix racing career six years ago. Kubica has spent recent months testing a variety of machinery, including a GP3 car at the Franciacorta track in Italy, a Formula E car at Donington Park and most recently an LMP2 Dallara for SMP Racing at Monza. He also was due to drive for former HRT F1 boss Colin Kolles’ World Endurance Championship team in the top LMP1 category, but backed out on the eve of the opening round at Silverstone.
Back in 2007 BMW-Sauber had had a mixed race in Canada– Nick Heidfeld had converted a third place grid position into a second place finish, but things hadn’t gone quite so well for Kubica – he suffered a horrific smash when his car went off track after clipping Jarno Trulli’s Toyota on the run down to the hairpin, his car then launching into the air off a bump, slamming off one wall and rolling back across the track and slamming into the barriers on the other side. That crash resulted in Kubica having to sit out the following round in the United States, handing an F1 break to one Sebastian Vettel, who would become F1s youngest point scorer at the time when filling in for Kubica. 12 months on, and Kubica would return to the scene of the smash and lead BMW-Sauber to a historic 1-2 finish.
That 2007 race had seen a young Lewis Hamilton announce himself to the F1 world by grabbing his first F1 victory in his rookie season, and in 2008 Hamilton looked to be in a league of his own again, dominating qualifying in his McLaren-Mercedes and taking a comfortable pole position. Kubica was best of the rest, qualifying his BMW-Sauber on the front row, ahead of the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen and the Renault of Fernando Alonso, but over 0.6 s back on Hamilton, while Heidfeld in the second BMW-Sauber was down in eight place.
At the start Hamilton got away cleanly from Kubica and Raikkonen, with Alonso dropping behind the Williams of Nico Rosberg. All things being equal Hamilton seemed set for another convincing win as he pulled well clear of Kubica and Raikkonen in the opening stages. But in F1 all things are seldom equal. Adrian Sutil’s Force India didn’t quite make it off the track on lap 15 when its gearbox gave up, and while yellow flags were initially thrown, a couple of laps later the stricken Force India was on fire, and the safety car would eventually come out. This eliminated Hamilton’s lead, which had gone out to over 7 seconds.
As soon as the pit lane was opened the leaders all darted into the pits on lap 19, and here things started to go from bad to worse for Hamilton, with a slow stop for McLaren allowing both Raikkonen and Kubica get the jump on Lewis. But while the pit lane was open for business on entry, a red light greeted Raikkonen and Kubica as they ran side by side to the end of the pitlane, and while they came to a stop alongside each other waiting to be released, Lewis Hamilton ploughed into the back of Raikkonen’s Ferrari, with the Williams of Nico Rosberg joining in the fun by going into the back of Hamilton’s McLaren! Hamilton and Raikkonen were both out on the spot, and while Kimi helpfully showed Lewis where the pit exit lights were, Kubica pulled out of the pits, relieved that it was the Ferrari that Hamilton had smashed into! There was further problems for Ferrrai as Felipe Massa had to make a second trip to the pits after the safety car pulled in following trouble with the refuelling rig on his first stop, pushing him right back down the order, and clearing another potential obstacle between Kubica and victory.
While the front runners had all pitted, cars further down the order had stayed out in the hope of stopping just once and gaining track position, which meant the faster cars were now out of position on the road. Kubica’s BMW-Sauber team-mate Nick Heidfeld led the way, and with the time Kubica spent bottled up in traffic, Heidfeld was able to make his one and only pit stop at the end of lap 29 and rejoin the race just ahead of Kubica, who would need to stop again. The main threat to a first BMW-Sauber win seemed to be Fernando Alonso, who was glued to Kubica’s gearbox as Heidfeld rejoined, so there was no real surprise that while Heidfeld left plenty of space for Kubica to pass on the inside of Turn 1 at the start of lap 31, he was not so generous with Alonso. Try as he might Alonso simply could not get past, going close to collecting Heidfeld at the hairpin on one lap and running deep and allowing Heidfeld back past as he tried a desperate lunge at the hairpin on another. Needing to stop again, a frustrated Alonso was already out of the equation for the victory when he spun off behind Heidfeld and collided with the wall on lap 44, retiring from the race.
It was now a question of whether Kubica could make his stop and return to track ahead of Heidfeld, or if he would find himself behind his team-mate once more. Kubica had been freed up as the last of the one stoppers pitted, and immediately starting reeling off fast times, and combined with the time Heidfeld lost fending off Alonso, it would prove to be enough for Kubica to retain the lead when he pitted on lap 49. From there he was able to coast to victory, Heidfeld ,making sure it would be a historic 1-2 for BMW-Sauber, with David Coulthard rounding off the podium for Red Bull.
On a day when disaster had befallen the more fancied title contenders, BMW-Sauber and Kubica had taken advantage and recorded a famous victory, which saw Kubica move into the lead in the drivers championship. It was to be the high-point for both Kubica and BMW-Sauber, with neither winning again in F1.