For the second race in a row, Kamui Kobayashi has set the place alight with some bold driving and given the lie to the theory that F1 is too tough for rookie drivers. He finished sixth today, ahead of team mate Jarno Trulli.
Starting his second Grand Prix in 12th place, he was the second best placed of the cars on a one-stop strategy today, after Kimi Raikkonen, but he finished well ahead of the Ferrari driver. His strategy brought him into contact with Jenson Button again. The pair had had a battle in Brazil, after which Button said Kobayashi was ‘crazy’.
Today they came into contact just after Button’s first stop on lap 17. At this point Kobayashi had another 13 laps to go until his stop, so the difference in fuel weight between the two cars was 12 laps, worth about a second per lap. Kobayashi had a go and Button outbraked himself trying to hold him off.
“The first big stop is turn eight and when you have got that much fuel on board it is always very difficult to judge the braking point,” said Button. “I slightly outbraked myself and locked the rears and the fronts and ran a bit wide and he got past. In reality it didn’t make a difference to my race as he was quicker than me at that point.”
Button was wary of Kobayashi. He raced him, but was forced into a mistake, which reflected well on Kobayashi. It also showed, arguably, that Button still wasn’t able to shake off the mentality of protecting a championship lead, rather than going for it, even though the championship was over. Kobayashi had nothing to lose and so was able to fight his ground.
At that stage both men had one more pit stop to make. Button was being told by his race engineer Andrew Shovlin that Kobayashi was the guy he was racing against. By the time the Japanese made his stop on lap 30 he was seven seconds ahead of Button. At this point he switched to the soft tyre. He lost 17 seconds to Button over the next 12 laps, mainly because it took him a few laps to settle into a rhythm on the soft tyre. Button pushed very hard in this phase and when Button made his second stop on lap 42 he emerged 10 seconds ahead of Kobayashi.
Tonight Toyota boss John Howett pretty much implied that Kobayashi had done enough in his two races to secure the seat for next season – provided that the Toyota main board votes to stay in the sport at its crunch meeting on November 15th.
“It looks like it,” he said “We will have to give really serious consideration, as he has really shown very good strong results.
“I am very impressed. We were very happy again. What we like is his real fighting spirit. He is not intimidated by anybody. It’s very positive.”
I had a chat with Kobayashi on Friday and as he used his hands to illustrate how he had positioned his car relative to Button’s in Brazil, I noticed that he has a tattoo on his right wrist which he covers up with a leather bracelet. It is hard to see exactly what the tattoo says, but the first two characters are “F1″. On his other wrist is the blingiest Breitling watch I have ever seen.
Kobayashi has made a very positive impression; he’s a fighter, he’s clearly quick and if he can find consistency in qualifying and a bit more pace at the beginning of a stint after a pit stop, he might well turn out to be a real diamond.