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08/11/2017 | 10:44 am

ROBERT KUBICA made his first official Formula One outing in more than six years on Wednesday as the Pole took another major step on his remarkable comeback trail.

Kubica managed an impressive 74 laps - more than any other driver at the Hungaroring - and posted the seventh fastest time in his first taste of this year's Renault.

The 32-year-old partially severed his right arm in a rallying crash back in 2011 that brought a sudden halt to a grand prix career which had seem him earmarked as future champion.

But Kubica appeared to show no ill-effects of the injury on his first official test in an F1 car for 2,372 days, as he posted a credible time of one minute and 19.681 seconds. His time was 2.6secs adrift of Sebastian Vettel, who was fastest for Ferrari.

"It's great for him to be back," Vettel, who leads Lewis Hamilton by 14 points in the championship race, said. "There was never a doubt about his talent, his speed and his ability to drive the car.

"The cars are different this year, which should fit his style. I hope that he will have fun."

Kubica's day got off to a shaky start after he brushed Renault's garage wall with his right rear tyre as he left the pits. The force of the impact dislodged a sign displaying Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg's name above the garage, but after a small pause, Kubica continued.

The Pole's banker lap was around six seconds off the pace, but his times began to tumble as the morning wore on, and his best effort was just 1.2secs slower than Renault driver Jolyon Palmer's qualifying lap for the Hungarian Grand Prix. It is probable that Kubica will also have been carrying more fuel, and thus a heavier car, than Britain's Palmer.

Kubica completed 115 laps at a private test in Valencia in June before a further trial last month in which he managed 90 laps of the Paul Ricard circuit in France.

But today's outing marked his first behind the wheel of this year's faster and more demanding generation of grand prix cars, and a sterner test of the mobility in his right arm.

Kubica was cheered on by a large army of Polish supporters who chanted his name throughout the morning running on the concluding day of this week's test.

The Pole made 76 grands prix starts, and finished on the podium 12 times. He also won the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix.

Nico Hulkenberg is set to be retained by Renault next year, but the future of Palmer is uncertain after his failure to score a single point this season. Renault could even be tempted to put Kubica in their car in place of Palmer following the summer break.

Above Kubica in the time sheets was British teenager Lando Norris, who impressed on his debut for McLaren.

The highly-rated 17-year-old was signed to the British team's young driver programme earlier this year, and he finished the morning session just six thousandths of a second slower than McLaren's Stoffel Vandoorne's best effort from Tuesday. Norris was also faster than Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, and second only to Vettel, 0.7secs adrift of the four-time world champion.

Britain's George Russell, 19, completed 36 laps for Mercedes on the second day of his first Formula One test outing, and was sixth at the lunch break.

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Kubica later took his tally to 142 laps - the equivalent of more than two race distances at the Hungaroring - and improved his time by four tenths to finish an impressive fourth in the order.

Englishman Norris also starred after improving on his best effort to finish just two tenths shy of Vettel, with a lap which was faster than both Fernando Alonso and Vandoorne managed in qualifying last weekend.

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"It was a fantastic feeling for me to be here today and it was amazing to see so many fans come to see me out on track, so thank you to all of them," Kubica said.

"It has been an incredible journey to this point, where I have answered many questions to myself.

"I learnt a lot about the latest generation car, as there are a reasonable amount of differences between it and the Formula One cars I have driven in the past.

"After today, it's too early to say what the next step might be. For now, I owe a big thanks to everyone at Renault Sport Formula One team for making this test happen."

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Credit: By Philip Duncan, Press Association Sport F1 Correspondent

(Copyright (c) 2017 Newsquest Media Group), source Newspapers

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