Williams chief technical officer Paddy Lowe has kept hopes alive that Robert Kubica might yet return to Grand Prix racing.
The 33-year-old Pole was considered one of the leading candidates to replace Felipe Massa in 2018. However, he ultimately lost out to Russian rookie Sergey Sirotkin.
Kubica has instead been named as the team’s development and reserve driver for the forthcoming season. Lowe confirmed that this meant he could potentially stand in for Sirotkin or Lance Stroll.
“He would be fine, we’re very confident of that,” Lowe told a Williams-SMP Racing joint event in Moscow at the weekend. “He wouldn’t be our reserve driver if we didn’t think he was competent to race.
“And not just competent, but able to perform well in the race,” he added quickly. “To race competitively.”
However, Lowe agreed that Kubica still had some way to go before he was in contention for a full-time seat in 2019.
“He’s got to earn the right to the race seat, whatever race seats may be available in 2019,” he said. “And Robert would want it no other way.”
Lowe was reluctant to be drawn on the reasons why the team had opted for Sirotkin over Kubica after testing both men in 2017.
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“I’m not going to talk about that,” he said. “We picked Sergey on the full range of his performance, against many drivers – not just Robert. He was the clear favourite.
“Ultimately, it’s not always about what [Kubica] is missing,” Lowe explained. “It’s a competitive market, to obtain a race seat. There are many more very, very talented drivers than there are seats.
“To put it in a different way, Robert has been on a journey to find his way back to Formula 1, from the trauma that occurred to his arm in the rally accident [in Italy in 2011].
“And all credit to him, it’s required an incredible commitment. A lot of bravery, and a lot of dedication to that objective.
“He’s on that journey, and I think with us this next year as the development driver that journey will continue.”
Lowe said that Kubica’s development role with the team would be an ideal way to get him race-ready in time to win a seat in 2019.
He said that Kubica would spend a “substantial amount” of time in the simulator. He added that it would be “of the same scale as a race driver or any of our simulator development drivers.”
“The point here is that Robert will be a contributing member of the technical team,” he insisted. “Not a guy that’s just sitting there, waiting on a subs bench.”
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