I was very puzzled when Robert Kubica signed for Renault in October. At that point, Fernando Alonso was confirmed at Ferrari but the second drives at McLaren and Brawn/Mercedes looked up for grabs. The outspoken Kubica had previously commented that he did not care what he was paid if the car was competitive but he then signed for a team that finished behind Toyota, Williams and BMW that season. Renault, following the Singapore crash-gate scandal, had lost team principal, Flavio Briatori, and technical chief, Pat Symonds, so did not even have the architects of their past success.
Perhaps recent comments throw more light on this. Kubica made no secret at the time of the fact he was deeply annoyed that after winning the 2008 Canada GP, he considered himself a championship contender, but BMW Sauber seemed happy to tick off the win as their target acheived for that year, thereafter to concentrate on their plan to win the title in 2009.
This quote needs to be treated with caution as it is translated and from a certain news service that has it’s critics: “When I was the championship leader in 2008, they helped Heidfeld to make up his gap rather than concentrate on me. It was amateurish.” (The translation of, “amateurish”, I suspect may be stronger than what he said.) Kubica conveniently forgets that obvious team-orders in Montreal for Heidfeld to let him past, as Heidfeld had made his last stop and Kubica had not, were almost certainly why he won the race instead of his team-mate.
After the Canadian win, Kubica did lead the World Championship with 42 points after seven of 18 races over Hamilton (38 points), Räikkönen (35), Heidfeld (29) and Massa (28). He finished 23 points shy of Hamilton’s title-winning 98 points.
This next quote from Autosprint in Italy (also given a similar translation by Autosport): “Today I feel the team’s confidence in me and I feel like I have more energy than in previous seasons. I feel better, even though it is not the car of my dreams.”
Kubica’s plain speaking unfettered by corporate PR-correctness I find refreshing. (It may well be why a seat at McLaren was not a likelihood.) One notable thing about Renault is they are a team who know how to treat a number one driver. It seems apparent that above all, even above a faster car or money, Robert wants to be loved.
I know by now, Jenson Button’s move to McLaren is ancient history but back then I did not have a blog. Button could not agree financial terms with the Brackley team, and whereas it was initially much assumed that his flirting with McLaren was a negotiation tactic, that was where he went.
Although denied that it was a pecuniary decision, on the grounds that the amount he signed to move to Woking was less than he was offered to stay, I still have a theory that it was about money. At Brawn, he had taken a severe pay cut for 2009, and now the team survival-crisis was over and Button had won the championship, he wanted his financial reward for his success and loyalty.
He may have felt hurt and insulted by what he was offered, especially bearing in mind how well management were to do from the Mercedes take-over. On the other hand, McLaren had a star World Championship driver, did not owe Button anything, and were still willing to offer big bucks to sign him. So even though the figure was a bit less, perhaps it meant considerably more to Button’s need to feel valued how much McLaren were offering.