Robert Kubica's horrific rally crash in Italy earlier this month, which impaled his car on a guard rail and severly damaged most of the right side of his body, has opened the door for Nick Heidfeld to return to F1. The 33-year-old German will take the Pole's seat at Lotus Renault GP for the 2011 season.

Heidfeld says he'd have preferred to make in back into F1 under different circumstances, naturally, but he's also glad to take advantage of the opportunity. His testing at Jerez last week proved he still has the speed necessary to compete, though his career thus far has lacked much in the way of podium finishes, and features no wins. In fact, he's closing on Mark Webber's record of most F1 starts without a victory.

Heidfeld will race alongside Vitaly Petrov for Lotus Renault GP, tentatively for the duration of the season. Kubica continues to recover in hospital, with another surgery yet to endure this week. His manager, Daniel Morelli, says he's recovering well, however, so it's within the realm of possibility--though unlikely--that Kubica could return to the sport before the end of the season. It remains to be seen how much function and control Kubica can recover in his severely damaged right arm and hand.

The F1 season kicks off in a few weeks at Bahrain, though the race in the small island nation could be cancelled due to political unrest. F1's Bernie Ecclestone has said he's monitoring the situation and will "respond appropriately."

[Lotus Renault GP, Autosport, Reuters]