BMW Sauber committed to F1 newcomer Kubica

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- How do you get your contract renewed if you are a driver at BMW Sauber?

In Robert Kubica's case, you destroy one of the team's cars.

Kubica had a horrendous accident in the Canadian Grand Prix on June 10.
Just a couple of days later, long before he even climbed back into the car, BMW Sauber signed him for 2008.

The reality, of course, was that BMW wanted him back because of his talent, not because of his crash.

"We sealed him as a driver immediately after his crash in order to give him the assurance that we count on him," team boss Dr. Mario Theissen said.

But given how well Kubica has been doing in his first full season of F1, surely re-signing him was just a formality?

"Taking up a contract for next year is a bit more than a formality,"
Theissen told ESPN.com. "It was a strong commitment from our side at that point of the season."

This weekend's Turkish Grand Prix marks one of two anniversaries for the 23-year-old from Krakow, Poland. Kubica actually made his F1 debut in the
2006 Hungarian Grand Prix, which is the event before the race in Istanbul.

Standing in for Jacques Villeneuve, who had parted company with BMW Sauber, Kubica finished eighth in Hungary last year, but he was disqualified because his car was 4.4 pounds underweight. In his next race, in Turkey, he finished 12th. He followed that up with a third-place in Italy but failed to score any points in the remaining three races of 2006.

After a slow start to 2007 because he was still adapting his driving style to the new generation of Bridgestone tires, Kubica has finished in the points seven times in nine races, and he has a solid grip on sixth place in the drivers' world championship.

BMW Sauber has Kubica under option for several more seasons, and he was never too worried that the team would not pick up his option for 2008.

"I was pretty confident," he said. "I am happy where I am, and the team always said that they are happy about the job I am doing, so I was not really thinking if there would be some bad surprises."

After one full year of being a BMW Sauber driver, Kubica feels he's a better driver all-around.

"About my driving, of course I am improving," he said. "I have a wider view of more things that happen in the car, and also I'm more open how to work with the tires, the setup and with all the engineers. I know a bit more about F1 in general. And apart from driving, yeah, I learned a few lessons [about life.]"

This year's BMW Sauber F1.07 is the third-best car in the field after the McLaren Mercedes MP4-22 and Ferrari F2007. The team virtually has third place locked up in the constructors' world championship.

"A very positive thing about this year's car is that it is performing quite well everywhere, from Monaco to Budapest to Silverstone to Canada and Indy," Kubica said. "We are much more consistent than last year. If someone [behind us] has not made a huge step during this short break after Hungary, we will stay where we were or maybe get closer to Ferrari and McLaren."

With six starts (counting Hungary) in 2006, Kubica is technically not a rookie this season. But he's still one of F1's newcomers. Another rookie, Lewis Hamilton, is grabbing many of the headlines and is leading the championship.

In qualifying for this year's Hungarian Grand Prix, Hamilton made more headlines after his spat with McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso. To make a long story short, Hamilton disobeyed team orders to let Alonso out on the track first in qualifying, and Alonso repaid him by holding him up in the pits so that he couldn't make his final qualifying run.

Hamilton and Kubica are good friends who raced together in go-karts and other series on their climb to F1. But Kubica doesn't know what went though Hamilton's mind in Hungary.

"I know Lewis pretty well from the early stage of our careers," Kubica said. "But lately in F1 we have not a lot of time, and for sure we don't speak about if he makes some strategy movements. We have a good relationship, but it is not that close."

Has Kubica ever been so angry at a teammate that he has sought revenge?

"No, not really," he said. "In the end he is your teammate, but he is the guy who you want to beat. If you want to win, you have to beat everybody, so you have to beat your teammate as well. Of course you are representing the same team, and you have to make sure that nothing happens, but sometimes two really tough drivers in the same team can make positive things."

Kubica and BMW Sauber teammate Nick Heidfeld (who also had his contract renewed) crashed into each other at the start of the European Grand Prix, but the team sorted everything out internally.

As the first-ever F1 driver from Poland, Kubica has seen the popularity of the sport soar in his home country. He recently took part in an F1 demonstration run in Warsaw.

"It was very nice to get F1 into Polish territory," he said. "F1 was not very popular in Poland, but now it is changing."

Some sectors of the Polish public and media (the made-up stories in the tabloids drive him crazy) have an unrealistic idea that Kubica should be winning every race. But those with more knowledge of F1 realize that he is doing a solid job to be sixth in the points.

For his own part, Kubica is not worrying about where he will end up in the championship. Nor is he thinking about the 2008 season just yet.

"There are six races remaining and I am concentrating on this year," he said. "I hope there will be no problems, and then we can concentrate on the performance and extract as much as possible from the car.

"I am not looking where I will be at the end of the season. I am looking at every Grand Prix to get the best results possible. We will think about next year when this season is finished."

However it finishes, this has been a pretty impressive and memorable season for Kubica. He's had seven top-seven finishes, escaped serious injury in a huge crash and signed a contract to be back with BMW Sauber in 2008.

Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.