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‘If you push the limit too much, you’ll fly off’

Robert Kubica has weighed up the evolution of F1 cars from the start of his career to present; noticing a huge change in how the car behaves. 

Kubica entered the paddock in 2006, and has stuck around despite his life changing accident in 2011 whereby his right forearm was partially severed.

In 2019, he raced as one of the Williams drivers, but now is a reserve driver for Alfa Romeo – and stood in for Kimi Raikkonen at the Dutch and Italian Grands Prix in 2021.

Talking to Auto Motor und Sport, he said: “There are four main aspects to compare. The first is weight. Today’s cars are significantly heavier. The second is the drive unit. It’s a complex system instead of a simple V8. The third is the tyres.

“Different characteristics, more contact surface, slicks instead of grooved tyres.

“And then there are the dimensions of the car. The modern cars are huge compared to those from the late 2000s. You don’t notice that until they’re side by side.

“With the wider cars from 2017, we also got more aerodynamic surfaces and more downforce. The extra grip from the aerodynamics and wider cars compensates for the higher weight.”

F1 cars have grown significantly, in weight – gaining more than 100kg – and in size and being much wider than they were in the early 2000s; this has been a huge shock to the likes of Kubica.

“I drove a 2012 and a 2017 car in quick succession. I experienced the weight jump more or less in one day. It was a completely different driving experience,” he said.

“It was almost a shock. You feel the extra weight in the cockpit. The car reacts more sluggishly in slow corners. It feels much bigger. Almost like going from a small car to a big car on the road.”

The drivers who have been around for a long time – like Hamilton, Vettel, Bottas and Kubica – have had to adapt their driving styles because of the changes in the car.

He added: “If you look at videos from the past, you’ll see that cars respond much more quickly and directly to steering wheel movements. It used to be easier to keep the car under control. Today, if you push the limit too much, you’ll fly off.”

2014 was the first year of the hybrid era, and this is where Kubica noticed a huge change in the cars: rapid on the straights but sluggish around corners.

Nowadays, the cars are far from what they used to be in the years of Schumacher and Hakkinen, with more downforce, more power and much wider tyres.

He said: “Driving at the limit and getting the maximum out of the car is always equally difficult. Formula 1 today, 10, 20 or 30 years ago was different, but the challenge was always the same. Different things were important.

“Today, you pay a higher price for overdoing it. It’s better to be five percent on the safe side than three percent over. In the old days, you got away with being 10 percent over.

“The degree to which you have to go easy on your material also depends a bit on the tyres and the external conditions.

“We always want more grip and more power, because then we can drive faster.”

 

Alfa Romeo has a new driver line-up for 2022 after a shift around on the grid – Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu Zhou.

The beginning of the marathon 23-race season will take place on the 18- 20 March, in Bahrain.




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