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Kobayashi knows he needs to unlock speed if he’s to take the next step
Posted By: James Allen  |  14 Aug 2011   |  10:30 am GMT  |  83 comments

Kamui Kobayashi has won many fans in his brief F1 career to date for his swashbuckling style; not just his signature bold overtaking moves, but also his defensive driving, which has also been very effective.

I’ll put my hands up and admit I love Kobayashi as a racer, he’s top quality entertainment and I love his spirit in a car, which reminds me a little bit of Jean Alesi.

Alesi made a big impression in a midfield Tyrrell car and ended up in a Ferrari, something which many fans would like to see happen with Kobayashi. It would be an amazing thing, and would align with Stefano Domenicali’s recent statement that for the future they would be looking to put a young driver alongside the experienced Fernando Alonso, who is tied to the team for five years. This is what they did with Felipe Massa, also a former Sauber driver, whom they placed alongside Michael Schumacher in 2006.

Sauber has been an important proving ground for Ferrari over the years, they take a supply of their engines and Ferrari is able to keep close tabs on the drivers’ performance. Sergio Perez is highly rated at Maranello; he was briefly, a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy before he signed his Sauber contract.

So they will be able to monitor Kobayashi in comparison with Perez and there’s a fair chance that one of them might end up in the Scuderia. Sadly, one just can’t quite imagine them taking a gamble on the Japanese driver.

As one of the world’s leading markets for luxury brands, Japan is important; it’s Ferrari’s number two market after the United States and the company opened its own office there in 2008. But it’s the strategic importance of Ferrari’s sponsors which counts for more, companies like Santander and Shell. Brazil is a critical market for both and this hasn’t done Massa any harm in recent years.

Then from the point of view of F1’s bigger picture, the sport has been in decline in Japan in recent years and could do with a shot of adrenaline, which the first Japanese driver in a top car would bring.

But above all those considerations, what a top team is looking for is speed and this is where the question mark lies with Kobayashi. He’s proved he can score points consistently and come through the field, which requires speed and racecraft.

Qualifying is an area where Kobayashi himself admits quite openly that he needs to do better if he is to get the chance to progress his career with a top team. He’s been outqualified five times by Perez, who is a rookie and although he’s had some good Saturdays, like Silverstone where he qualified 8th and Malaysia where he was 10th on the grid, he’s not been consistent or fast enough this year.

Kobayashi: Has he got the speed? (Darren Heath)

“Drivers always have to develop, never think they are perfect,” said Kobayashi. “I’m still learning, for sure Peter isn’t happy, they are waiting for leadership in the team. Last year there were a couple of mistakes and reliability problems, but this year we try to score points regularly which we managed to do quite well. Next year I need a different approach; maybe we need one more step, fight a bit more, for sure I need to find some target.”

I asked him whether he can see specifically where he can improve as a qualifier, or whether he is perhaps a tenth or two too slow. His answer was surprisingly candid,
“I know that there aren’t enough strong performances in qualifying,” he said. “The thing is, when the car is good, I’m always okay. But if the car isn’t comfortable then I’m not using the whole performance. This is where I have to improve. It’s everything; confidence, warm up, balance and set up. Then I cannot make a good performance.”

Admitting a weakness is quite rare in a racing driver, even if it’s obvious to observers. But Kobayashi knows that an inability to drive around an imbalance could be the difference between him being a good driver and a great driver and that is why he says he is focussing most of his attention on it at the moment. He believes that it is something that can be learned.

To watch him on a Sunday, ripping through the field from 12th to 5th, like Monaco or 14th to 10th, as he did in Spain, (results which were not achieved by saving sets of new tyres) he clearly has the talent.

All eyes will be on Kobayashi over the remainder of this season and the first half of next. If he can show that the speed is there, he might just get that dream move up the grid.

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Drivers like Hamilton, Alonso, Schumacher, they throw tantrums and bitch about things. Hate them or love them, everybody agree they are the best on track.

Drivers like Kobayashi, Heifeld, Heikki, very nice guys, too nice. If you don’t have the will to destroy your opponents and be selfish, you won’t win.


I can take this two ways:

1) Kobayashi needs to improve on adapting to the car. This may be difficult, as there is limited seat time in the year, and if he isn’t that type of driver, the only way he’ll improve in that area is to have a million miles of testing.

2) Kobayashi needs a better engineer that can communicate with him effectively to determine what he needs the car to do. If his engineer can set up the car better for qualifying, then he’ll be able to set a blazing lap.

Now if Kobayashi were to step into a McLaren, Ferrari or Red Bull, I think he would quickly find it much easier to set a pole lap since the car is just that much better. One of those Top-3 cars would be better balanced, and allow him to extract what he needs from the car. No disrespect to Sauber, but there’s a reason that they are slower than Ferrari, despite using the same engine; their chassis is just not that great. Put Kobayashi in a good chassis, and these problems will be forgotten.


Regardless of his admitted “weaknesses”, he is still better than many others on the grid, and only a hair short of the top 5 or so drivers. Nothing to sneeze at.


Thanks for the Koby interview…although sounds like Peter Sauber was hoping for a lot better performance at the halfway mark. Would be interesting to know how Sauber rates Koby relative to his past experience with Kimi, Massa, Kubica, etc.

The target needs to be 7th place or higher in the driver standings with the odd podium.

Mike from Medellin, Colombia

Peter Windsor of USF1 fame claims to have had a hand in the success of the world’s best drivers.

Watch this video with his tecnobabble analysis about suppleness of arm movements etc. Sounds like snake oil if you ask me….

Start at 0:33


Mike from Medellin, Colombia

Reply to (25)


Kobayashi would need to assimilate into Italian culture at Ferrari, would he or not?

Maybe for the politics the powers in F1 may not be so sure about an East Asian driver getting a seat in a top 3 team yet.

F1 is a “European” sport as a previous poster mentioned.


Not sure I understand why most commenters think that “politics” would keep Kobayashi out of Ferrari. I mean “politics” didn’t keep Park Ji-Sung out of ManU (yeah I know he’s Korean), but talent certainly put him there. I understand the Santander/Shell marketing considerations, but at the end of the day Ferrari is part of one of the world’s greatest conglomerates and financial considerations don’t have the same impact they would at Sauber or a team like HRT. I would think Ferrari’s prime imperative is to, in the immortal wolds of AL Davis, just win baby. For that they need only 2 things: the best car and the best drivers.

In my humble barely informed opinion, Kobayashi is the perfect Ferrari driver, a skillful swashbuckler, that will make a brash statement in either a F150 Italia or a 458 Italia. Banzai Kobayashi-san y viva Ferrari!!!


It’s not money – it’s an attitude of mind (mindset)in top management that people mean about Ferrari politics.

They would prefer two Latin drivers if possible, but I think it unlikely that a Japanese would fit.

I was surprised when Mansell got the ride, but ‘Il Leone’ was popular with the Tifosi. However they undermined NM with their support for Prost.

A vey political team.


Lets put it this way: it would be FAR easier to list the Latin drivers than the non-Latin drivers until you get into the early 60s.


That aside, what gave you that impression anyway? What did anyone in Ferrari ever say about a preference of Latin drivers? The only thing I’ve ever heard is that Ferrari tends to avoid Italian drivers these days.

So what you’re saying is that Schumacher was only hired because there wasn’t a Latin equivalent at the time? Same with Kimi? I guess Prost and Mansell were only there because they couldn’t get their hands on someone Latin?

It just doesn’t add up.


Ah, il latini…the Latin Brotherhood! But of course, silly me, Schumacher, Raikkonen and all the other non latini Ferrari drivers notwithstanding. By the way Ristorante Il Latini in Florence, M-A-D-O-N-N-A–highly recommended! I wonder if Ferrari can be as forthright as Kobayashi and come out and say that they won’t hire a Japanese driver, I mean do the Japanese actually buy Ferrari’s?


Isn’t it wild that they also hired a French driver, an Austrian driver, a German driver, and Irish driver and two Finnish drivers?

There goes your Latin theory.


What don’t you understand about ‘prefer latin drivers IF POSSIBLE’?

I didn’t say ‘exclusively Latin drivers’.

Whilst on the subject, you surely don’t include the Irish driver with the others?


Kobayashi’s candid comments don’t surprise me given the motorsport culture I’ve observed in Japan..

Whereas in Europe drivers tend to adjust the car to suit them, Japanese drivers take the opposite approach and are expected to adjust themselves to suit the car to find performance..


I love watching Kobayashi! I think he definitely deserves a shot at a top team. I wonder how much his inability to drive around a car’s problems would subside? I wonder if this inability is tied a bit to the car? I think this may be true of many drivers, but I imagine that a fast car could make many a driver much faster.


james with you doing things om drivers at the minute something i would like your opinion on or even a post on is felipe massa. i dont know is massa is simpy underperforming against alonso or is alonso just so much better than michael and kimi was at ferrari. i rated kimi so highly a few years back and thought massa simply raised his game but now im not so sure. it is very confusing. when alonso joined ferrari i thought massa might out qualify him more after his saturday performances in late 06, 07, 08 and early 09. i would like you to clear this up or other peoples opinions.


Here’s my take on what he’s saying.

He indicates that his main weakness is his car set-up skills, and he looking to be more confident to extract the maximum out of himself and the car.

Hopefully this will all come with more experience, because as has been pointed out he’s not much more than a rookie himself.

Also one thing to bear in mind. The last few qualifying sessions have been rather cold and/or wet. With the mid field so tightly packed, I reckon there’s quite an element of luck involved on where they’ve all qualified.


i really don’t see Koba in RBR, simply because of Helmut Marko. Webber sticking with the team after the transition from Jaguar made sense, but I am pretty sure Marko is not going to source anyone outside of his little pool of mediocre drivers because that undermines his salary 😛

McLaren & Mercedes seem to be enjoying their roles as the british and german teams and I don’t see them sourcing a ‘foreigner’ in their driving line up.

Ferrari seem to have a strong emphasis on drivers from countries with latin based languages (ie french, italian, spanish, portugese) so not really seeing him there.

If I was Koba’s manager, I wouldn’t have re-signed with Sauber unless I had knocked very hard on the Lotus-Renault door. The best Heidfeld (or Heitfelt as Coulthard prefers) deserves would be to replace De La Rosa at McLaren. Petrov will never be a world champion, and will only win a race if it is due to attrition or a miraculous car. Whether you want to admit/refute Koba has the attributes of a world champion and race winner – I think it would be difficult to argue that he is not closer to these ideals than Heidfeld/Petrov are/ever will be.


You’re joking, right?

Here are some Ferrari drivers to consider:

-Gerhard Berger (Austria)

-Michael Schumacher (Germany)

-Mika Salo (Finland)

-Eddie Irvine (Ireland)

-Kimi Raikkonen (Finland)

Here are some McLaren drivers to consider:

-Mika Hakkinen (Finland)

-Kimi Raikkonen (Finland)

-Pedro de la Rosa (Spain)

-Juan Pablo Montoya (Colombia)

-Fernando Alonso (Spain)

-Heikki Kovalainen (Finland)

Mercedes were planning to run Jenson Button before he quit and jumped over to McLaren; it was never their intention to have two German drivers.

Red Bull said clearly that if none of their young drivers cut it, they will find another driver from outside their program to step in to the RBR team.

Also, you seem to forget that Webber left Jaguar and went to Williams for a few seasons before he was hired by Red Bull. Don’t you remember Red Bull running Klien/Liuzzi and Coulthard? Klien and Liuzzi were both given the axe because they weren’t doing the job, so they hired a driver that wasn’t in their program: Webber.

Please do some fact-checking before you make claims regarding the supposed nationalistic and racial preferences of Formula One teams.

Adrian Newey Jnr

Schumi was German (and Brawn and Byrne English) – that doesn’t fit with your latin bias.


The problem for KK (and other talented newbies) is the lack of competitive seats that are open or likely to open-up in future. Looking forward a year or two or even three, only likely vacant seats appear to be at Ferrari (as No.2) or at Merc (when Schu re-retires). Further, all the RedBull seats will be taken by redbull-affiliated drivers so that’s four more seats that KK can’t hope to sit in. Sorta means that he has to hope to go from Sauber to Lotus or Williams or Force India and then, in a couple/few more years, hope he can get a proper seat when one of the oldies eventually retires. I think we’re gonna have a period where a LOT of talented drivers (KK being one) who simply never get near a decent car.

Adrian Newey Jnr

Or hope that one of the mid level teams steps up – similar to what Red Bull have over the past few years.


I too have enjoyed Kobayashis driving prowess and his battles with Schumi in particular! I can’t see him driving for Ferrari in the next few years but hope he continues to improve his qualifying and race results. He makes F1 a better spectacle!


Koba’s only way into a top team could be if the likes of Honda or Toyota came back to F1 as an engine supplier, if they partnered with a top team like Red Bull for example, then who knows.

I know Red Bull use the Infiniti branded Renault engines now, but perhaps if they get rid of Renault and go with a Japanese powerhouse, a Japanese driver might be part of the deal.


Nice interviews with both Sauber drivers James, thanks for that. It’s a shame you don’t hear much from the mid-to-back of the grid in the news.

You had alluded to Kobayashi’s admitting to his weaknesses before, so that bit doesn’t come as a surprise. But the way it all pieces together does remind one a bit of a certain Mr. Button. Which surely isn’t a bad target to aim for. Oh well, let’s see what happens. Whatever it is, one more year in a Sauber isn’t a bad thing. Let’s hope he can show a bit more speed and get a good drive out of it 🙂


A bit of a silly question, but do F1 drivers have coaches or schools where they can go back to to hone their skills / learn something new?


They do karting mainly. But they need to be careful, as Kubica found when his rallying accident put a hold on his F1 career

Mark in Australia

I can’t see Kobayashi in a Ferrari. The politics would put an end to that which is of course, unfortunate.

For me Kobayashi is up there with Lewis for entertainment value. I’d really like to see him in a more competitive car to show his wears. Lets hope Sauber put in the hard yards and allow both of their young talents to shine.

P.S. Is this mid season break killing anyone else??? Bring on Spa and beyond!!!


I am sorry really I cant just quite get on the Koby band wagon. Swashbuckling style more like lets stick it in that position and see what happens a little like push and shove or biff and barge.

I am pretty certain others could do the same thing it doesn’t make a great driver. Besides he hasn’t any qualy speed. If it cant out qualify his partner now a faster car isn’t going to make a difference he will just have a faster partner to beat.

Time will tell if he has what it takes.


sort of like heidfeld, petrov, schumi, di resta or sutil eh? only difference is they always seem to lose a nose cone or get a puncture and koba doesnt. If this guy was driving under the british flag he would already be in a mclaren.


I’ve not heard any other drivers complaining about Kobayashi, which suggests he is aggressive but relatively clean. He’d be up before the stewards more if he was the driver you suggest.

He’s the racer that Vettel doesn’t appear to be. They need to get together and teach each other a few things.


Kudos to Kobayashi for being so honest. It takes courage to openly admit one’s flaws, particularly in highly competitive endeavors where being candid is often mistaken for being weak. It actually takes strength of character to be able to honestly identify and then face one’s own flaws in order to rectify them. To some he may not seem like a future world champion, but for analytical types (of which this article would seem to reveal Kobayashi to be), they need to have a wide and clear mental picture of what they need to do to confidently perform at their best before they can truly let go and just let it happen. I hope he finds this inner confidence and people around him with the patience and wisdom to allow it time to blossom because F1 needs more characters like him.


I’m wondering what could have happened to a guy like Kobayashi, if he would have had a top seat from the beginning. Perhaps he could have just missed being a Champion in his first season by a point and then come back the very next and win it, barely, by a point?

We’ll never know 🙁

Adrian Newey Jnr

James – what do you put his F1 performance down to when he had arguably a lacklustre pre-F1 career?

Is the Sauber flattering its current drivers? As much as I like the guy, these sorts of questions need to be asked as part of a true assessment of each driver.


Perez did finish 2nd in GP2 behind Pastor – who had around 300 years experience at that level.He was also far from lacklustre in British F3 – I remember one race he won from 14th at Monza – not a track renowned for great overtaking.Kobyashi certainly had a poor time in GP2 – most races you wouldn’t have known he was there.But both are doing a good job in F1 and it will be fascinating to see how they develop.

As for the Alesi comparison well I think Kobyashi is not quite at that level in ability.But possibly a bit more level headed which is to his advantage….


I don’t think the pre F1 career matters that much, F1 is such a step up, and guys who win GP2 titles don’t neccesarily win Grand Prix. Mark Webber has never won a championship in any form of car racing. Kobayashi did win 3 championships (Formula Renault, both Italian and Europcup series in ’05, and GP2 Asia in ’09).


One of the most exciting Japanese drivers ever to participate in F1. Some may criticize his “kamikaze” style, but if anything he should be applauded. This kid knows that to move up the grid, being aggressive is a quality which will help him excel.


why would anyone criticise his style. he makes the moves and very rarely induces an accident.


Yeah, you beat me to punch on that one, Kobayashi races hard and fair and gets past people without going bumper cars. Someone said it earlier, very brave, very aggressive, but very smart and very calculated.

That being said, I don’t see him shining so bright if he ever makes his way to the front of the field. The racing is just different up there.


Kobayashi has certainly been a revelation, but I can’t bring myself to think he could be a future world champion, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because of his disappointing spell in GP2, maybe it’s because I have him pegged as a Fisichella type driver who punches well above his weight in a midfield car, but for whatever reason wouldn’t actually do the business in a front line car.

If he were to step into a top team, surely Red Bull makes the most sense with the Infiniti connection. He has the personality of a Red Bull driver much more than a Ferrari or McLaren driver. If Webber retires next year, which I expect he will, I don’t really see any of the Red Bull youngsters ready to replace him…

Also, isn’t it strange to think that we certainly would not have seen Kobayashi in F1 if it wasn’t for Timo Glock having an accident at the final corner in qualifying in Suzuka 2009. Kamui has more or less admitted he didn’t have the budget for another year of GP2 and Toyota were on their way out of F1 at the time. Amazing how things work out.


GOd cant bare the sight of wasted talent i guess!!


Kobayashi is much like Jean Alesi, in that they are both quite candid in their abilities, and shortcomings. Jean was #1 at Ferrari for several years. Kamui can be more successful in F-1 than Alesi if he is able to ‘drive around’a mishandling car.

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