Commentary

'07 Canadian GP turning point for first-time winner Hamilton, survivor Kubica

Robert Kubica and Lewis Hamilton can appreciate the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix for very different reasons. Hamilton scored his maiden F1 victory in Montreal, and Kubica survived one of the most spectacular racing accidents ever filmed.

Updated: June 5, 2008, 5:47 PM ET
By Dan Knutson | Special to ESPN.com

Robert KubicaJacques Boissinot/AP PhotoRescue workers prepare to extract Robert Kubica from his race car at the 2007 Canadian GP.

MONTREAL -- Last year's Canadian Grand Prix will forever be remembered for two major happenings: a history-making win and a horrifying crash.

Sensational rookie Lewis Hamilton scored his maiden Grand Prix victory to become the first driver with an African-Caribbean heritage to win a Formula One race.

And Robert Kubica escaped virtually uninjured from a violent high-speed tumbling accident that made all the highlight reels.

One year later, both drivers are back in Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix.

Reflecting back, BMW Sauber's Kubica says that the crash did not and has not affected him in any way. He said that a day after the accident and says the same thing a year afterward.

"I don't have to cope with anything," he explained. "I don't have to cope because it's already a year ago, and since then I have been driving a F1 car without thinking about it. In F1 and motorsport the risks are high, but I don't have any negative feelings about Canada. I am just going as I go to any other race with the goal to score as many points as possible."

[+] EnlargeLewis Hamilton
AP Photo/Ryan Remiorz,CPLewis Hamilton on his first career Formula One victory: " It was a spectacular win ..."

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver Hamilton says his first Grand Prix win made some differences.

"I don't think it made a huge difference," he said. "The only difference it makes is that beforehand you know you can do it, but believing you can do it and then actually making it happen is a different thing.

"It showed people I was here to do business and proved to myself that it is possible. And it has just sort of opened that doorway, and I was able to win from then on. I think in confidence terms, I was confident already and building my confidence race after race, with more and more podiums."

Hamilton did notice a change in his competitors' attitude, however.

"I think they started to realize that I was a real threat," he said. "I had already had a couple of good races. I think by then they were like: 'Shoot, maybe he is for real! And he is a real competitor!'"

Looking back to a year ago, during the race Hamilton wondered whether he was destined not to win even though he was out in front.

"I got my pole position, and I was happy with that," he recalled. "But I wanted to convert it into a win, and then I had all these safety cars put out [in front of me]. I had this big gap, then the safety car would come out, and then I had another gap.

"And so I thought: 'Am I really supposed to be winning this race or not?' But I still managed to pull it off. It was a spectacular win and I was thrilled about it -- having my first Grand Prix win in my first Grand Prix season after such consistent races before it. Even now, when I look back at last year, I don't know how I did it all. It is so hard to be consistent."

Kubica has quipped that he does not have to watch the replays of his wild ride because he remained conscious throughout and remembers it all. He says he will have no qualms driving by the scene of the accident this year.

"There is nothing to analyze what happened last year," he said. "I think everybody saw it. It's not a corner, so I don't think there will be a problem. It didn't happen in the corner, the accident, but I don't see any problems there."

Jarno Trulli inadvertently started the whole thing when he tagged Kubica from behind. That sent Kubica's BMW Sauber careening for the wall.

The angle of the wall has been changed this year, and debris fencing has been placed on top of it.

After winning in Canada last year, Hamilton won again a week later in the U.S. Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He won twice more in 2007.

Hamilton started off 2008 with a win, didn't win in the next four races, then won in Monaco.

How much of a confidence lift was the Monaco result after Ferrari's run of victories?

"I don't think it really made much difference, to be honest," Hamilton said. "We had had a couple of strong races. But I think mainly for the team, not for me, it was a big confidence boost. They have been working so hard and they deserved it more than anyone, I think.

"For me, though, I didn't particularly need a confidence boost. I had had a couple of strong races before, so for sure it was nice to have a win, but I am not going to get overly excited about it."

Last year, Kubica never finished in the top three. So far in 2008, he has done so three times. He finished second in Monaco and celebrated with his friend Hamilton. The duo raced each other in the stepping-stone categories up to F1 along with the likes of Nico Rosberg and Nelson Piquet.

"It is great to be up there on the podium with all of them because when we raced we always talked about being in F1," Hamilton told ESPN.com, "and it is quite crazy that six, seven years later we are all in F1. And being on the podium together is quite surreal."

Hamilton has a good shot not only at a podium but also at a victory in Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix. But he remains cautious.

"Last year, I think we had a very good car," he said. "Obviously with the driving aids we had, I think the package was stronger in some areas than the one we have right now. But that is because we have had some aids taken away. But we should be slightly better over the curbs, which is definitely suited for this sort of circuit. And we've improved the engine and improved the aero, so we should be quicker overall. I feel quite optimistic and feel that we can make quite a big difference here."

Asked why the results are flowing better this year than last season, Kubica also points to the ban of the driver aids -- traction control and electronic engine braking.

"I don't think my driving style has changed at all," he said. "The biggest difference is that at the end of the last year, as soon as we switched off all the systems which last year were helping drivers, I found the car much better, much easier to drive.

"And as soon as we started working towards this season, I was more comfortable in the car. We are doing a better job on the setup side as well with my new engineer. I just feel more comfortable in the car.

"The car feels better and I can attack more; I know what the car will do. Last year was a big lottery for me, what the car was doing, before the corner, in the corners, so it was difficult to extract the maximum and to push."

It will take some wild cards for Kubica and BMW Sauber to win against McLaren's Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa in the Canadian Grand Prix. But a podium finish is a real possibility for Kubica.

"Canada is one of my favorite racetracks," Kubica said. "Although last year I had quite a big accident, so I'm very happy to be here. In 2006, when I was a Friday driver and reserve driver, I was performing very well. This year the weather forecast says it might rain, or it could be similar to Monaco. We had a good race in Monaco, so I'm looking forward to a good race and good points here."

As nonchalant as he is about last year's wild tumble, Kubica did tell the media that he does not plan to talk about it anymore for the rest of the weekend in Montreal.

As much as he enjoyed his win here last year, Hamilton also is looking forward, not backward. He did the same thing after his ecstatic victory in this year's Monaco Grand Prix two weeks ago.

"After every race I try and get over it quickly and focus on the next one," he said. "Obviously I had time to enjoy [the Monaco win] and I had a lot of time with my family on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at home.

"And then I came out here early. I went with a couple of friends to Los Angeles and from there I came straight here [to Montreal]. So I've had time to do my training, enjoy some nice weather in the States -- a pretty good time."

Kubica and Hamilton may put the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix behind them, but what happened to them in that race has been immortalized in the history books and highlight reels.

Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.