He only appeared in 2 races for Toyota last year, deputising for the injured Timo Glock, but I became an instant fan of Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi and really hoped he would get a drive for 2010. Even when Toyota pulled out of the sport, I felt that he had shown enough potential that at least one team, if only one of the new expansion teams, would offer him a drive.
The BMW Sauber F1 team, taking over the BMW team, have thankfully offered him a drive and will use Ferrari engines. As of 8th January, although the BMW Sauber team has been assured of a place on the 2010 grid, they are yet to be officially confirmed on the FIA’s entry list. Nevertheless, their entry is expected and they have announced they will unveil their new car in Valencia on January 31st just before the first official 3-day test of 2010 gets underway.
Kobayashi’s brief appearance at the grand prix of Brazil and Abu Dhabi last year revealed a great deal about the driving and racing ability of this relatively unknown driver. His debut into Formula 1 came at Brazil, a track he was unfamiliar with and qualified in the pouring rain in a respectable 11th, especially as he had very few practice laps before hand. It was in the race that he showed that he was a driver that was not in awe of established drivers. He notoriously battled Jenson Button and aggressively defended his position before eventually the future champion managed to squeeze by. Kobayashi also had a fierce and almost kamikaze battle with his countryman, Nakajima, which did not end well for the latter who ended up crashing out and Kobayashi went on to finish 9th just outside the points.
Although that day was all about Button finally clinching the 2009 F1 crown, many people were talking about the driving of Kobayashi. Everyone thought he was quick, but many said he was too reckless and dangerous and that he could not continue to drive like that in formula one. Even Jenson, when talking about his amazing race that day, said that Kobayashi was “crazy”. He was definitely fearless and determined and maybe just over the line of recklessness, but then you want to see that in a F1 driver don’t you? The likes of Schumacher and Senna were also criticised in a similar way.
The following race at Abu Dhabi, a new track to all drivers, saw Kobayashi drive a mature race to finish 6th, ahead of his far more experienced teammate Trulli. He also overtook Jenson Button and drove at a quick and respectable pace throughout and very much looked like a F1 driver who needed a confirmed drive for next season.
So what else do we know about Kobayashi? According to his website, Kobayashi began his racing career in 1996 at the age of 9 and finished 3rd in his first season of Karting in the SL Takarazuka Tournament Cadet Class and in the following 7 years he won 4 karting titles. In 2004 he signed up with the Toyota Drivers Academy and raced in Formula Renault, both in the German series and in Italy where he was 7th overall in his first season. The following year, he finished 1st in Italian Formula Renault and Formula Renault Eurocup (all with the Prema Powerteam).
He moved up to Formula 3 in 2006 & 2007 (Euroseries) and finished 8th overall and then 4th a year later. 2008 saw him graduate to GP2 in the Asia Series and in the main GP2 Series as well as becoming a Toyota F1 Test Driver. He finished 1st overall in his second season of GP2 Asia Series but did not make much of an impression in the main GP2 Series, finishing only 16th overall in 2008 and 2009. I think this is what shocked people when he drove in F1 last year as they were not expecting much from him.
Looking at his GP2 results, he did not seem to fair well at street circuits such as Monaco and Valencia. However, he did win at Bahrain (look for him to do well at the first race of the season), Shanghai (China), Sepang (Malaysia) and at the Circuit de Catalunya in Spain.
This season is going to be very intense up at the front, but I will be watching Mr Kobayashi very closely to see how he does. Sauber has yet to announce who will be driving alongside him and they are clearly trying to get someone experienced. They could not get Trulli but Heidfeld would also be desirable, however, he could be too expensive. To help Kobayashi’s first full season in F1 it would help him to have an experienced driver with him who knows how to set up and develop a car. If that does happen then I can very much see Kobayashi becoming part of the usual suspects in F1! (sorry, couldn’t resist it)