Ever since Robert Kubica suffered horrendous injuries in his rally crash in February, fans and everyone in Formula 1 have been eager to find out just how well his recovery has been going - and just when he will be back behind the wheel of a car again.
At Monza on Saturday, there was hugely encouraging news from his manager Daniele Morelli - who spoke to the media to deliver the latest update on the Polish driver now that his rehabilitation programme is stepping up a gear.
AUTOSPORT was there to hear what Morelli had to say about Kubica's final operation, how well his right hand is working and just when he will get back into the paddock.
Q. What is the latest update on Robert?
Daniele Morelli: I am here first of all to bring the regards of Robert to all of you because you are very supportive of his situation. I am glad to say we had two weeks ago we had the very last operation which was for us a kind of little threat. There were several question marks over the outcome, but fortunately the operation went well and Robert, the day after the operation could right away move his elbow with I would say almost a normal movement. That is a fundamental act for the recovery of all the functions of his right arm.
Having said that it was a very important step because now Robert has started I would say, the final part of his recovery because he can now move his right arm in an active way, that means all the muscles that haven't been working for several months and were in a very bad situation and have a lack of strength. That was giving a great impeachment in the movement of his hand. Now the recovery is focused on the strength and day-after-day Robert is increasing the strength of his right arm, wrist, fingers and all the parts that were affected.
This step will last four more weeks and then in October we consider that Robert can put a helmet on his head just to give a message of what he will be capable to do. Not talking of course of Formula 1 right away but it is important that Robert can start to drive. Whether it is a simulator or a road car on a race track this is not really important - the important thing is the final step is achieved from a certain point of view.
We don't have now anymore concern about the final outcome of the recovery of Robert in general. Of course we must be positive and it is important to be positive in this kind of situation - but Robert is working really, really hard. You know him, he is a hound! The doctors and the physiotherapists must tell him to slow down sometimes because he is doing too much. But it is better to slow him down rather than the opposite way around. So am I here to say that we have good news. We still need nature to do its work because we have the nerves that still must complete their recovery, but we do not have any concrete obstacle. It is just a question of time.
Q. How is he mentally?
DM: Mentally Robert is certainly not depressed. Sometimes he is maybe a bit nervous, but when you have a physical limitation then I think it is normal that you become a bit nervous but in a positive way. So when he is working and he sees results then he is happy.
Q. How long is the physiotherapy?
DM: Five or six hours a day. Saturday and Sunday included. There are no rest days.
Q. When in October?
DM: It doesn't really matter from my point of view. The important thing is that we have a goal for October - I can tell you 15th of October if that makes any difference.
Q. What exactly is the final outcome in your mind?
DM: Robert is a Formula 1 driver so if he can drive a Formula Renault car, he can drive an F1 car. F1 cars nowadays are not physically demanding, so I would say it is probably more complicated to drive a GP2 than an F1 car. So the important thing is that he can hold the steering wheel and turn left and right.
Q. So it's about making sure he has enough power to steer?
DM: Of course he needs the sufficient strength to make the normal movements that are not really demanding. Robert is not a tennis player. When we have the sufficient condition, and Robert of course will decide when he feels that, the plan is to drive any car I would say.
Q. Is Robert sure he will come back?
DM: He never lost, in his mind, the feeling that he would be back. And he's good because he transmits this feeling to the people that he works with. There is nothing worse than an ill person that is not giving support to the doctors. But this is certainly not the case with Robert.
Q. How much support has Renault given to him?
DM: So far I would say he has had full support. A Formula 1 team cannot really help with things for an injured driver. But the important thing was that they kept in touch with Robert - especially his engineers - in order to give him all the information and updates on what was going on during a race weekend and so that has given Robert the impression that he has not been abandoned.
Q. So do you no longer have any doubt that the nerves will repair themselves to the point where they will be back to normal?
DM: Yes we can say so. If the nerves have recovered a certain degree then there is no doubt - this is what the doctor said - that the recovery will be completed. The problem is that if you have a nerve that has stopped recovering then you have a problem. But that concern was related to the point where there were scars, because where there are scars there may be an interruption of the nerves. But the nerve has crossed the scar, so it is okay, but still it is a human body, it is not a robot. But we must believe what the neurosurgeons are telling us.
Q. You said the last operation removed the last question mark - was that question mark that in the end the arm would not be 100 per cent moveable?
DM: Exactly. The question mark of the nerves was already clear before the last operation. This last question mark was over the elbow.
Q. How long will the team wait for a decision over Robert because at some point they will have to make a decision over next year's line-up?
DM: Yes of course. This is something that we are keeping in touch with Eric Boullier over, and he is personally following the progress of Robert. We are still some time in front of us, at least two or three months before a deadline will appear. Now we must do things step-by-step and now we are concentrating on this final stage of his recovery.
Q. But Eric Boullier hasn't given you a deadline?
DM: No. We know what the deadlines are without putting a benchmark on it.
Q. But you have had assurances that if Robert comes back to full strength then there will be a seat open for him?
Q. Does he have a contract for next year already?
Q. So you will have to negotiate one?
DM: Yes. But this is not something that I really... Renault has given us a reassurance that there is a seat for Robert definitely available.
Q. If everything goes according to plan, is there a chance for Robert to drive a Formula 1 car before the winter testing starts in February?
DM: Yes of course. There are regulations that permit you to drive a Formula 1 car that is more than two years old. Renault has already expressed its help with this and they will organise it whenever it's possible. Any kind of private test that Robert may need.
Q. Would it be too late for Robert to wait until February anyway?
DM: It's been too long, these last seven months, for Robert. February is in five months time and it seems very far away still.
Q. Has Bruno Senna's positive reception cast any doubt over Robert?
DM: Robert just sees that his car is being driven by another driver. Whether it's Nick [Heidfeld] or Bruno makes no difference to him. And if the team has taken the decision to replace Nick with Bruno they are of course fully entitled to do so and they had all the reasons to do so. But Robert is not bothered by that.
Q. Have you talked to other teams for next year?
DM: No. I don't think it is the time to begin negotiations of whatever and still we are contracted to Lotus Renault and it's certainly not the time to think about it.
Q. In all this time has he ever driven a road car on the road since the accident?
DM: It would be possible but he cannot do it because it would be too dangerous. He is driving very well but if someone crashed into him he is not in the best condition. He is not doing anything that is risky.
Q. Is he doing texting with his right hand and have you seen him do anything dextrous?
DM: Well Robert is not a pianist. Yes he has increased the ability of his hand, because he could not move his right hand for a long time. He can hold objects without any stress or putting too much strength - because he hasn't. This is why it is very important that finally Robert can work on the muscles that are really so weak that they need absolutely to be strengthened. But that will be pretty quick because the muscles are there, they just need training.
Q. Does he play video games?
DM: Yes of course - he plays a lot of video games and he is beating all the records because he has a lot of time!
Q. Do you think he will be back in the paddock before the end of the year?
DM: Robert will be back in the paddock when he can wear a crash helmet and overalls and not before then.
Q. The Formula Medicine clinic has all the computer games and tests and stuff. Has he done those and how has he got on?
DM: Yes this is what I meant by he has beaten all records - it is the ones in the Formula Medicine facilities.
Q. Does he watch the races?
DM: Yes he watches all the races. The only one he missed was Spa because the operation was done on Sunday during the race, but we watched qualifying together on the Saturday.
Q. The team has confirmed that Bruno Senna will be in the car until Brazil. Does that mean Robert will definitely not be back in the car this year then?
DM: You are putting the things the opposite way around. The team has not confirmed Bruno until the end of the season because they know Robert could not be ready for the Brazilian race. I don't think that the team could confirm Bruno until the last but one race, because it is Brazil and for Bruno it is important for him to race in Brazil. It is uninfluential from our side.
Q. So it is not a dream that he could be racing in Brazil?
DM: There must be a reason also to be there. You cannot after one season just arrive in Brazil and jump in the car as if nothing had happened. Robert would need some preparation so that restricts a little bit the time we have at our disposal, then it cannot be decided overnight to organise a Formula 1 test and then fly to Brazil and be prepared for that. So, there are also logistics issues that we have to consider. But from my personal point of view, I would be happy if Robert is not driving in Brazil but I know he could drive. That is the fundamental issue.