Jerome Pugmire, The Associated Press
Published Thursday, November 22, 2018 10:15 EST
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Robert Kubica's return to Formula One is kind of a relief for world champion Lewis Hamilton.
Kubica, 33, announced on Thursday that he will be racing for Williams next year, a remarkable comeback considering that Kubica almost lost his right hand in a 2011 rally crash.
"Robert is older than me?" Hamilton joked at a news conference.
When informed Kubica is actually older than Hamilton for a month, Hamilton smiled.
"I'm very happy that he came back and I would be the second oldest driver, but now I'm going to be third," said Hamilton. "I can not tell you how happy I am with this."
Summarizing with a serious note, the five-time world champion spoke of his high regard for Kubica, a former rival of old.
"I ran for Robert on the days of go-carting," Hamilton said. "He was one of the most talented riders I've ever had the pleasure of racing against." "He's had a very difficult time in the last few years and it's great that he has the opportunity and I hope he works hard on his strength and is back in his mind.
With the retirement of Fernando Alonso, 37, of F1, after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday, Kubica will be the second oldest on the grid next year behind 39-year-old Kimi Raikkonen.
Alonso, two-time F1 champion, called Kubica "one of the great talents."
He added a note of caution.
"It remains to see what will be the performance of the car and its own performance," said Alonso. "But if he's at 100%, he'll be awesome to watch."
He completes a remarkable comeback for Kubica, rated as one of the fastest in F1 before a horrible rally crash in 2011 left him needing seven hours of surgery in a partially severed right hand.
"Being back in F1 next season will be one of the greatest achievements of my life," Kubica said. "I can not wait to rush back."
Kubica impressed at Williams' tests last year and was a reserve and development driver this year. One of the key questions about his return was whether Kubica's fragile right arm could handle the tension of a heavy car.
These questions were answered when he successfully completed a rigorous rehabilitation program.
"I would like to thank everyone who helped me during what was a difficult period of my life in recent years," Kubica said. "It has been a challenging journey to get back on the grid of Formula 1, but what seemed almost impossible now is possible."
Kubica won 12 podium finishes in 2006/10 – winning his first pole position and winning the 2008 title – and was considered one of the most brilliant talents in the series.
Kubica won the Canadian Grand Prix driving for the BMW Sauber after finishing second at the Monaco Grand Prix. These performances led him to join Ferrari and a better title race.
Now he is happy to be back in F1.