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* Kubica suffers multiple fractures in rally crash
* Surgeons battle to save use of his right hand
* Pole could miss entire season (Adds comment from doctor after surgery)
By Alan Baldwin
LONDON, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Robert Kubica’s Formula One career hung in the balance on Sunday after a high-speed crash in a minor rally in Italy left the Renault driver fighting to save the use of his right hand.
The Pole, who went through more than seven hours of surgery after suffering multiple fractures to his right leg and arm, could miss much if not all of the season starting in Bahrain on March 13.
“We will see in the next days what will happen,” doctor Igor Rossello told reporters at the Santa Corona hospital in Pietra Ligure near Genoa.
“The danger is that in five or seven days we have vascular problems. He could have surgery again to resolve the problems.”
Rossello said Kubica was likely to be out of action for a year, although he offered a glimmer of hope for a quicker recovery.
“Drivers are always very special patients. I have a lot of motorbike patients and they heal in the fastest way possible, much faster than normal people.”
With testing under way in Spain already and the first race fast approaching, his Lotus-backed team will surely have to find a replacement for one of the most popular and competitive drivers on the grid.
Kubica, a race winner in Canada in 2008 with BMW-Sauber, was Renault’s big hope of starting the season with a splash.
The team’s official third drivers are Brazilian Bruno Senna and France’s Romain Grosjean. Senna competed last season for the HRT team while Grosjean started seven races for Renault in 2009.
Neither has scored a point in Formula One and media reports quickly focused on Germans Nick Heidfeld and Nico Hulkenberg as possible alternatives, although the latter is contracted to Force India as a reserve.
Renault’s other race driver is Russian Vitaly Petrov, who made his debut last season but was eclipsed by a popular teammate seen as a future champion by many .
The Formula One paddock and world of motorsport at large was quick to send messages of support to Kubica, with other drivers using social network Twitter to express their shock and support for a fierce competitor who has already overcome considerable obstacles to reach the top on talent alone.
Kubica, Poland’s first Formula One driver and national sporting hero, was driving to the start of the Ronde di Andora event near Genoa in a Skoda Fabia when the car went off the road and hit a church wall.
Italy’s ANSA news agency said the car had been taken in by police for checks, while a wet asphalt road that had tree roots sticking out was the most likely cause of the crash.
The co-driver, Jacub Gerber, got out unhurt. Kubica had to be extracted by firemen.
Kubica, a keen rally fan who has entered several events previously, tested the new Renault in Valencia last week and ended the three days as the fastest overall.
The Pole walked away virtually unscathed from a huge crash in Canada in 2007 but still bears the scars of a serious road accident as a passenger in 2003, which left him with titanium bolts in his arm.
The accident was sure also to raise a further debate about the wisdom of teams allowing their highly paid and prized drivers to risk everything in their recreational life.
“We let him do it because rallying is in his heart,” team principal Eric Boullier told Italy’s ANSA news agency, however.
“Rally driving is vital for Robert and his state of mind...we know the risks and so does he. We don’t want a robot or corporate driver.”
Red Bull driver Mark Webber was the last to suffer such an injury, breaking his leg and shoulder in November 2008 after being involved in a collision with a car while cycling in Tasmania.
Last year, while leading the championship into the final races, the Australian fell off his mountain bike again and fractured his shoulder.
In 1990 Italian grand prix driver and race winner Alessandro Nannini, whose Benetton team went on to become Renault, had his right forearm severed in a helicopter accident. Although he had successful surgery, he did not race again in Formula One.
(Additional reporting by Mark Meadows; Editing by Greg Stutchbury. To query or comment on this story firstname.lastname@example.org)
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