Robert Kubica could be out of action for the whole of the 2011 Formula 1 season as a result of the serious injuries he sustained in his rally crash on Sunday, medical staff have said.
The Renault driver underwent a seven-hour operation earlier today at the Santa Corona Hospital in Pietra Ligure following his accident on the opening stage of the Ronde di Andora rally.
He had lost control of his Super 2000 Skoda Fabia just a few kilometres into the event and crashed into a wall. The impact resulted in a length of crash barrier penetrating the cockpit of the car and hitting Kubica, badly injuring the right-hand side of his body.
As well as multiple fractures to his right arm, leg and hand, of more immediate concern was his partially severed right hand.
There were fears that the hand may have had to be amputated, but doctors managed to reattach the blood supply during a lengthy operation and are hoping the repair will be successful.
Doctor Igor Rossello, who is a hand specialist, told local media on Sunday night that it would take several days for doctors to assess the success of the operation - and warned that Kubica could need up to one year to recover.
"We need to wait for a week at least to verify whether the hand survives," Dr Rossello was quoted as saying by Italian media. "The nerve lesions are the ones that leave us with the most question marks over the recovery of functions.
"Rehabilitation will be relatively long, probably one year. He came here with multiple traumas, with several associated injuries. He won't necessarily have to undergo further surgery on the hand, but he will if needed."
Dr Rossello said that he expected it would take at least 12 months before Kubica would be able to drive an F1 car again - although he admitted racing drivers often recovered from injury far quicker than predicted.
When asked what the best prediction for Kubica to be back racing, he said: "One year is the best provision.
"I think it is quite difficult now, but you never know. Drivers are always very special patients. I have a lot of motorbike patients and they heal in a much faster way - faster than normal people."
Kubica's co-driver Jakub Gerber emerged uninjured from the accident, and said he did not know what had caused the Pole to go off the road.
"We were on the first four kilometres of the first special stage. I was looking at the notes and didn't notice that the car was skidding," he told Gazzetta dello Sport. "Only when we crashed I saw Robert holding his arm, and after a few moments he lost consciousness.
"Robert isn't just a great driver, he is a friend. I just hope he can recover soon."
Renault team principal Eric Boullier defended the decision to let Kubica keep rallying during the vital build-up period to the new F1 season, even though that decision now appears to have left his team without its lead driver for the year ahead.
"Robert is a person we love dearly: we are extremely sad and obviously shocked," he told the Il Vostro Giornale. "Whether it's a Lotus, a Renault or a Skoda it doesn't make any difference: it's nothing to do with business.
"We've let him do it because rallying is what he loves to do. Rallying is vital for Robert and for his sanity. Besides that, there is a reciprocal agreement. We knew the risks and so did he. We didn't want a robot or a corporate man for a driver."
Kubica has received an outpouring of good wishes from the F1 community after news of his injuries emerged - with a host of drivers, including Jenson Button, Rubens Barrichello, Heikki Kovalainen and Timo Glock - all expressing their hope that he recovers quickly.
Button said: "Shocking news about Robert Kubica. I wish him a speedy recovery."
Fernando Alonso, who is a good friend of Kubica's, even travelled to the Italian hospital on Sunday to speak to doctors - although it is not clear if he was able to see Kubica in person.