Robert Kubica's recovery from horrific rally crash injuries might not take as long as a year.
The 12 month prediction was made by the surgeon in charge of the Polish driver's nearly eight hour operation on Sunday, but Renault team boss Eric Boullier said on Monday that doctors' forecasts are always conservative.
"With yesterday's (Monday's) news and the medical bulletins, I was worried," Flavio Briatore, who visited the 26-year-old in hospital, told the ANSA news agency.
"I was prepared for the worst. But when I saw him we even shared a joke and he asked about my son.
"I called Alonso and Bernie and told them I think they will see him on the track before the end of the season.
"He's a great and tough guy and I am sure he will come back soon," added the Italian.
"Considering the terrible accident he suffered, he's ok.
"We didn't talk about the accident but about Formula One and about a quick return. Considering his will and his fitness, I would bet he will come back within five or six months," said Briatore.
Kubica's friends Fernando Alonso, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Pastor Maldonado have also visited the hospital.
"He didn't tell me anything special," new Williams driver Maldonado told 422race.com, "(except) that he's quite well."
La Gazzetta dello Sport tracked down for comment Alessandro Nannini, who was driving for Benetton in 1990 when his right arm was severed in a helicopter crash.
The Italian did not return to F1 but he subsequently raced touring and sports cars.
"His injury is different to the one I had," the 51-year-old said. "His arm was not completed separated, and the nerves, tendons and muscles will grow back in just a matter of time.
"For sure Robert will come back to racing," added Nannini.
Kubica's hand surgeon Igor Rossello is also confident, but he warned that it is "impossible" to make precise predictions.
"With the nervous system, you never know, but if Alessandro Nannini managed to go back, why shouldn't Kubica?" he said.
Liuzzi, Hulkenberg Admit Interest In Kubica Seat
With Robert Kubica facing a long recovery from his horror rally crash, the candidates to fill his Renault race seat are beginning to line up.
The Lotus-sponsored team's boss Eric Boullier acknowledged on Monday that with the Polish regular out for several months, he is likely to look beyond contracted reserve drivers Bruno Senna and Romain Grosjean.
"The difference is that it is not going to be for one race but probably all of the first half of the season," Flavio Briatore, who visited 26-year-old Kubica in hospital on Monday, is quoted by O Estado de S.Paulo.
"So it has to be an experienced driver. The team has come forward compared to last year, so they will need someone who knows how to race at the front," added the Italian.
The most famous name in the mix is Kimi Raikkonen.
"I'd be amazed if Kimi is still fit enough for F1," Martin Brundle wrote on Twitter, "and (the world) rally programme trips over F1 tests."
Numerous journalists' attempts to contact Raikkonen's manager Steve Robertson on Monday were fruitless.
"Personally I'd crowbar (Nico) Hulkenberg from FI (Force India)," continued Brundle, the British commentator and former driver and manager.
Timo Gans, a member of Hulkenberg's management team, admitted the German would be interested in the appointment, even though he is signed up to be Force India's Friday driver this year.
"We have a contract with Force India and we will not take the initiative to contact Renault," Gans told the Daily Mail.
"If Renault should contact us we will start thinking about that, but we are not doing that yet. Hopefully Robert gets well soon," he added.
Also mentioned have been Nick Heidfeld, Jarno Trulli, Pedro de la Rosa and Christian Klien.
Axed Force India driver Vitantonio Liuzzi visited his friend Kubica on Monday and admitted to 422race.com that he would be interested in sitting in for the Pole.
"It's obvious that when Renault should be sure that Robert won't be able to step in the car, this chance might be open and I hope to be chosen instead of somebody else," he said.
It might be said that Vitaly Petrov is either hoping for an experienced driver to replace Kubica so that he is not forced into a leadership position, or hoping for Renault to promote from within to enhance his status in F1.
"I believe it is senseless to discuss Vitaly's status because there is no such thing as first pilot and second pilot," his spokeswoman told Ria Novosti agency.
Speculation About Heidfeld As Candidate To Replace Kubica Unconfirmed
Nick Heidfeld's manager on Tuesday refused to confirm speculation the German driver is a candidate to replace the injured Robert Kubica in 2011.
Vitaly Petrov, after visiting his regular Polish teammate in hospital, named veteran Heidfeld alongside Bruno Senna and Tonio Liuzzi as the leading contenders to race in Kubica's place this year.
"With respect for Robert, we believe it is currently not appropriate to speculate," Heidfeld's manager Andre Theuerzeit told the German news agency SID.
33-year-old German Heidfeld, with more than 170 Grands Prix under his belt, was Kubica's teammate at BMW between 2006 and 2009.
Davidson Says No To Kubica Replacement Drive
Anthony Davidson has reportedly ruled himself out of contention to replace injured Robert Kubica in 2011.
The 31-year-old Briton was a well-respected Honda test driver who raced full-time for Super Aguri in 2007 and 2008.
He has recently been working with Mercedes GP in the Brackley based team's simulator, but his main job is with Peugeot's Le Mans team, and he has re-committed for this year.
According to Mirror correspondent Byron Young on Twitter, Davidson said Kubica's replacement this year has "big shoes to fill and must be a title contender".
Young said Davidson had therefore ruled "himself out of (contention for the) Renault Lotus drive having signed Peugeot Le Mans deal".