Paris - Robert Kubica on Friday vowed to be back in Formula One by the end of the year as experienced German Nick Heidfeld emerged as favourite to deputise for the injured Pole at the Lotus Renault team.
Kubica was racing in the Ronde di Andora rally in Italy at the weekend when he lost control of his vehicle at high speed on a bend and crashed into a church wall.
Surgeons battled for seven hours to save his right hand and he underwent a further nine hours of surgery on his arm and foot on Friday.
"I should be back this year and my right arm feels better now than it did when I was run over by a drunk seven years ago," Kubica told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Kubica is used to fighting his way back.
He crashed into a wall at 300kph during the Canadian Grand Prix in 2007 while driving for Sauber, before rebounding across the track in a barrel roll and hitting another barrier.
However, he was not seriously injured, sustaining nothing more than a sprained ankle and slight concussion.
He missed only one Grand Prix after the incident.
"I'll get better after these accidents, that's what happened to me in 2007 after the crash in Canada," he said.
"In these situations your abilities and motivation shine through. I'll come back a better driver and a stronger person."
Although he admitted he does not yet know if he will regain full use of his hand, Kubica believes he will get back behind the wheel.
"The fingers work, I can feel them. My arm too. But they still need to operate on me and only after that will we know," added Kubica.
"I don't have much pain but I'm sedated. After the last operation, the countdown to my return to the track will begin."
Friday's surgery was to rebuild his foot, shoulder and the inner part of his elbow.
"We finished the second surgical intervention on his upper arm, which was already compromised in a previous accident," said orthopaedic surgeon Francesco Lanza.
"We gave him a bone graft and inserted a plate. We operated on the inner part of the upper arm but we still have to operate on the outer part."
Igor Rossello, who operated on Kubica's hand, said it had shown no bad reaction to the second operation.
"Robert's hand reacted well to this phase, the blood circulation has been restored and it's not swollen," he said.
Eric Boullier, the team principal of Lotus Renault, said Friday that he was looking for a driver "of experience" to replace Kubica and hinted that former Williams and Sauber pilot Heidfeld could fit the bill.
"In these circumstances we need a man with experience. This season there are new things in the car and we cannot risk putting in a young driver," Boullier told German magazine Auto Motor un Sport.
"The KERS system, rear wings, new tyres... experience is really important. There aren't many drivers like this available."
Boullier said that drivers such as "Nick Heidfeld, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Pedro de la Rosa" met these requirements.
Heidfeld will drive at the ongoing Jerez tests in Spain on Saturday and Sunday, where he will share driving duties with Bruno Senna.
"If he convinces, he will be our man. He will also drive at the next tests in Barcelona (Feb 18-21)," added Boullier.
Heidfeld, 33, who was once a team-mate of Kubica's at Sauber, said: "If I get the chance, I am going to try and seize it."
Polish church leaders are hoping that a drop of blood belonging to the late Pope John Paul II will put Kubica on the road to recovery, a senior clergyman said on Friday.
Kubica is to receive a drop of the late pontiff's blood and a strip of fabric from one of his liturgical robes, Poland's Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz told the commercial TVN24 news channel in Warsaw.
"John Paul II was a sportsman himself, he loved sport as a young man," Dziwisz said of the late pontiff, whom the Vatican has put on the fast track to sainthood.