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Kobayashi celebrates podium with fans, but what does future hold?
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Posted By: James Allen  |  08 Oct 2012   |  11:43 am GMT  |  173 comments

His future at Sauber is still not clear, but Kamui Kobayashi certainly made sure that the fans in Suzuka felt part of his success, by celebrating with them last night and again this morning at another event.

Of all the F1 drivers Kobayashi is probably one of the most active at giving something back to the fans, especially in Japan. He took part in the FOTA Fans Forum at Woking last year and again in Japan this year and has organised many engagements with fans in Japan.

“I’ve been busy since the race was over,” he said in a statement issued by the Sauber team on Monday. “Last night there was a party with fans in Suzuka, and this morning I went straight back to Suzuka circuit because there was another event organised with more than 5,000 fans. In every respect it was a very intense weekend.

“I had a lot of confidence before we came to Japan. I’ve always felt that if you ever want to look back and regard yourself as a Formula One driver, you have to have been on the podium at least once. Without such a photo it’s a bit as if you had never been there. So it means a lot to me.


“It was a fantastic feeling to see all the people in my home country so emotional and happy. It gave me such a lot and I will never forget that moment. I want to thank the Japanese fans for the great support they gave to the Sauber F1 Team and to myself.”

Kobayashi has been under pressure this season to secure a podium for the Sauber team, especially after his team mate Sergio Perez had managed to get three of them in the first 13 races. This has propelled Perez into the big league with a long term McLaren contract secured from 2013.

For Kobayashi, however, prospects of retaining his seat have been quite shaky in recent weeks and it is not clear whether the podium will save his seat or whether the team has already decided to move on and this podium will be merely a sweet memory. There are other drivers sniffing around the Sauber team, which has been one of the revelations of 2012, with its class leading aerodynamics.

With the technical rules set to stay relatively unchanged in 2013, the Sauber is a highly prized seat. One rival for Kobayashi is Nico Hulkenberg, who looks likely to be disappointed by Ferrari as they look set to retain Felipe Massa for another year.

Sauber CEO Monisha Kaltenborn noticeably played down the effect this result could have on Kobayashi’s chances of staying. She kept referring to the fact that, “We know him very well. We know his strengths very well, so we don’t need these kind of results for that.”

Ironically this sounds like the rhetoric used by Williams management when letting Hulkenberg go in 2010; they had evaluated him over several years as a test driver and then a season as a racer and felt that he didn’t have what it takes at the highest level. Time will tell how accurate that assessment turns out to be in his case.

Kobayashi has now done 55 Grands Prix and Sunday was his first podium. He is a known quantity, capable of some very strong qualifying performances, such as Spa and Suzuka, but also with a history of struggling to qualify consistently well. He’s a better racer and and also very capable in wheel to wheel combat and overtaking. He has had only one retirement on technical grounds this season, so he’s certainly had a clear run at it in a very good car. Prior to Sunday’s race he had scored 35 points at an average of 2.5 points per race.

Despite the return of four podiums from 15 races, there is a feeling at Sauber that they could and should have had significantly more results with this car and some of the blame for that lies with Kobayashi, who hasn’t been as consistent as Perez.

Kaltenborn is confident that despite Perez’ departure the support of Carlos Slim Jr and Telmex will remain for next season and this could see Mexican reserve driver Esteban Guttierez being given a chance. He’s served his apprenticeship reasonably well in GP2 and Sauber has a strong record of giving rookies a chance.

Money is increasingly an issue for the midfield teams and there are other drivers around with budgets, who could be placed alongside a known quantity like a Hulkenberg.

With no sponsorship money forthcoming from Japan to back Kobayashi the question Kaltenborn has to ask herself is, can another unfunded established driver give us a more consistent return, especially if they accept that having a rookie means probably not scoring as many points from that car?

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1

I think that if Nico Hulkenberg is going to join Sauber next year, Kamui Kobayashi should be his teammate. Rule Kobayashi out of the 2013 season and Formula One has lost one of it’s most entertaining drivers. I love those moments when Kamui provides overtaking moves – he’s very good at them.

May there be hope in Kamui Kobayashi driving for Sauber in 2013.

2

I’ve followed Kobayashi’s progress ever since his first drive with Toyota in 2009. There is without a doubt that he is one of the most talented drivers to emerge from the sport in the last three years and he deserves to stay in F1. A lot of Kamui’s misfortunes this year has come down to bad luck and poor race strategy decisions from Sauber. Sauber should at least give Kamui one more year, if not then Lotus should drop GRO and give Kamui a seat next to Kimi. He deserves that at the very least. Now THAT would immediately be my favourite driver team in F1 by far, and I’m sure a lot of people here will agree with me.

3

Kimi/Kamui would be a sensational pairing.

4

Hmm…

Considering the fanaticism of fans in Japan, Kamui could be a good catch for Ferrari.

Ferrari and Asia are not commonly seen together, at least from my viewpoint, so Kobayashi could help Ferrari come Big in Japan.

5

Yeah but it’s China where all the money is for buying Ferraris, and currently there’s loads of anti-Japanese protests going on at the moment.

There was a picture posted on-line of an Audi dealership who’s staff was proudly standing under a banner proclaiming “Death to all Japanese”.

Just because he’s Asian means didly squat for selling Ferraris to the largest market in the region.

6

Sounds like Sauber need a change of management rather than a change of driver.

If Sauber don’t retain Kobayashi, then I hope he gets a drive elsewhere and consistently beats next year’s Sauber drivers.

7

@ James Allen,

What is your opinion of Kamui being a car developer?

WHat’s the general talk of Kamui around the paddock in this regard?

8

I have little to add about where he will end up or deserves to end up but would like to add that his podium finish my be the best moment so in F1 2012 for me.

We all like the guy for what he brings to the grid and it was great to see him finally rewarded with a podium at his home track no less. Even if he drops out of F1 and is never seen again he will be remembered always for being a Japanese driver who finished on the podium at his home Grand Prix on merit.

I loved the ‘Kobi-Kobi’ chant just before he came onto the podium. It is very unusual to hear Japanese fans chat in unison like that. The Kobayashi fan corner was also great to see. In an era of going to bland circuits in countries with no F1 traditions it was fantastic to see such a genuine outpouring of joy for a driver.

9

Well it’s certainly rare to see opinions so undivided on a given issue!

Kobayashi deserves a place in F1 without a shadow of a doubt.

As others have pointed out, he’s improved his qualifying this year, but tyre rules have often limited his strategy and results.

10

I would echo the comments here that Kamui should go to Lotus alongside Kimi. That would be a great line-up!

Am also glad Massa got 2nd in Japan, but still believe it would be a massive mistake by Ferrari to retain him for 2013. The guy’s had his shot, give Hulkenberg or some other younger guy the drive.

Unless of course Seb is locked in at the Scuderia for 2014 in which case guess Felipe can keep the seat warm for one more year.

11

i think he really needs some good performances in the last few races. another podium or two and then he should be better off!

perez’s have mostly been down to luck – if he can get his on merit (ie. comparable tires to those around) then that is a more impressive effort.

You cant compare getting podiums when you are on the right tire and the 8 competitors around you are on the wrong one. its like being in different formulas.

anyway i predict vergne to be dropped at toro rosso and kobayashi to move there.

(not as good a seat as sauber but a seat nonetheless)

12

If Kobayashi went to torro rosso for a year and impressed, then that could possibly open the door to a drive at red bull after webber retires in 2014 with betel moving to ferrari.

I’m sure that would help propel redbulls sails in Japan too!

13

Koby is an anomaly – a quick Japanese driver with actual ability, no zaibatsu style backing and popular with a lots of different F1 fans.

From what little I can work out, he probably doesn’t have the personality or political skill for a #1 driver at a top team but definitely would be a good #2. If Massa had not finished P2 in Suzuka I would have thought Koby would be a dark horse candidate for a seat swap.

I’m optimistic for Koby for 2013 – despite some of the top seats being confirmed I think the driver market is wide open and there going to be a bit of backroom dealing – but not for long. As Bernie expands F1 into Asia, F1 desperately needs a quality Asian driver who can mix it with the European superstars Fernando, Jenson, Lewis, Sebastian, et al.

Pirellis and DRS don’t play to Koby’s natural strengths and Sauber are clinical Swiss engineers rather than follow your gut racers. I think the Sauber guys genuinely like Kamui as they went through some tough times but if Sauber and Kamui part ways, I hope Sauber end up with the sponsors/cash they need and Koby ends up with a competitive team – Lotus or Williams?

Maybe Bernie can resurrect a new Japanese superteam – Leyton House Toyota for 2014 with Koby and Jenson as teammates! and maybe throw in Adrian Newey for a return stint as technical boss…

14

Many people in (and fans of) F1, including Kamui himself (I’ve spoken to him personally about it), and probably James, hugely over-estimate the popularity of F1 in Japan. It’s easy to go to Suzuka and see the huge crowds and think that F1 is big in Japan. It isn’t. It’s impossible to explain in a few sentences, but I will do my best:

The Japanese have a different culture/mentality. Simply, they devote themselves. You see it in work and play. Most Japanese spend their entire lives working for one company, and believe me, they are pretty damn devoted at work. Less known though, is that they are the same in their private lives. Most people will have one interest or sport that they are quite obsessed with. They have little interest in anything else. It starts at school, where they choose a sport. After this it’s reasonably likely that they never play anything else for the rest of their life. Everyone has their favourite sport or sports, but I must have played over 20 different sports more than a few times. For most Japanese this number would be 1 or 2. Accordingly, they will be pretty into that sport/hobby.

The point is, Japanese who like F1 absolutely love it, and go to Suzuka every year. But there’s probably only a few hundred thousand such people (out of 120 million). I bet if you ask people on the street, less than 1% would have ever heard of Kamui, despite him clearly being Japan’s greatest ever F1 driver. His podium on Sunday managed to get him about a 5 second mention at the end of the tv sports news, compared to about 10 minutes of that day’s ordinary baseball highlights. Read a newspaper in Japan, and there’s rarely any mention of F1. If there is, it will be hard to find. This Monday’s paper (Yomiuri) had one small article (probably about 700 words) on the race, and Kamui (bear in mind that’s for a Japanese driver coming 3rd at the Japanese GP). There was a large sports picture on the front page, of Kei Nishikori (ever heard of him?). There are 12 terrestrial tv channels in Japan, and none of them show even highlights of F1.

Anyway, I’m seriously rambling. Point is, F1 is not very big in Japan, and Japanese companies don’t sponsor because there’s so little return on their investment. They used to because they had a lot of money unlike now, but even then it was promotion for the international market, not the Japanese market, hence only international companies advertised. Japanese drivers were there to please the board (who also didn’t care about the sport). There’s very little incentive for anyone to sponsor Kamui, even if he does brilliantly.

I’m gonna do my best to buck the trend and get my (medium-sized Japanese) company to sponsor him though. Wish me luck!

15

Well put!

Remember the Justin Wilson project where people bought shares in his future, thus generating some sponsorship?

If there ever was a time and place for someone needing it, this is it.

Japanese or not, whatever his nationality, Kamui deserves his seat in at least a Sauber, if not something better in F1.

16

Except some top driver, I think Kamui can fight with anyone on the grid in the same car. No one else is obviously better than him.

In my opinion, I even think that Kamui is better than Perez by average. Perez got the good result came partly with luck, yes he is driving well but partly come that he was right place in the right time.

Malayisa, with the Safety car played into his hand, he got the poisition by luck at that time, the just maintain his posiiton and get the good result, without SC, he wouldn’t get the podium.

Monza, tyre stategy also play well for him, his car was obviously fastest at that stage, if he Q in top 10, he wouldn’t likely be on the podium.

I didn’t say Perez is not good, I just said his result partly come with luck.

if Kamui will be replaced, mostly from financial decision, not by his performance.

Shame if he is not on the grid next year.

17

Get rid of DRS then Kobayashi will shine again.

18

How the F1 world changes. I remember the excitement that accompanied Kobayashi when he first came on the scene. Now they are talking he is under pressure. Personally I hope he retains a seat, he is exciting, he can pass, and he is fun.

I do understand that he has not been as consistent as he should be by now. But then again, a good result may just kick him up to another level. I hope so.

19

Kamui is a fantastic driver and he shouldn’t need a podium in Japan (as well deserved and performed as it was) to secure his future in F1. All of his banzai overtaking maneuvers make him worth the price of admission alone. At Valencia around Alonso on the last corner of the last lap of the race is my personal highlight! Fantastic! Kobayashi and Gutierrez at Sauber would be my personal choice.

20

I find it staggering that Kamui is fighting for a drive next year and crashkid (aka: Grosjean) seems to have his seat nailed down via ‘Total’ Sponsor money.

🙁

21

How incredibly foolish f1 is… after Hamilton, Kobi is the next most exciting driver in the field to watch…

Is there anyone with sense in any department of F1?

It seems to be overrun with corruption.

22

Kamui is a great racer and Sauber should keep him anyway they can. His experience and consistency is as good or better than any driver coming into f1 in the last 3 years.

I have no idea why people are talking about Hulkenberg ! Surely the Force India drive is a more solid seat than Sauber so from Hulks view- why would he move especially If he is in the running for Ferrari no2 seat ( albeit very unlikely post Suzuka). If by some slim chance Felipe was dropped by Ferrari then a combination with KK would be sensational also!! Either way Hulk or Massa would be a great pairing! . But unfortunately if sponsorship is the key here then it seems that Sauber go through this rebuilding phase in. 2013 all over again which is just crazy– but simple how F1 works ATM. This is one eg why cost cutting is so crucial for this sport..

23
Adrian Newey Jnr

Because FI’s owner is allegedly almost bankrupt. The trick as a driver is to be in a team on the rise, not the decline. Look at the fortunes of Williams drivers over previous years.

24

I like the use of the word “allegedly” .. It’ will be used before the German courts quite liberally very soon over blackmail charges.

25

I think Sauber need a pairing which brings money, although a hint of experience. For me, that would be Esteban Guitierez and Jaime Algusuari.

Sauber want to hold on to Slim’s Mexican Millions, and having a Mexican driver in their seat next year will help keep this in place. Meanwhile, many agree that Algusuari was unfairly and prematurely dumped by the short-sighted Red Bull driver development program. Jaime will have knowledge of the Ferrari engine and it’s short comings. He’s also the Pirelli development driver… i.e. the man who has an idea of what next year’s tyres are going to be like. This alone should be interesting Sauber, as well as the money he could potentially bring.

Given how good Sauber’s car is this year and potentially into the next, they have a real opportunity here. Kamui is good, but he isn’t great. Time to move on – F1 doesn’t have room for sentiment, as Mercedes have shown.

26

I really hope Kobayashi stays in F1, and can continue up the greasy pole. He seems like possibly the only F1 driver to appreciate that he really is living what is a dream for millions of people. He seems to give so much back to his fans, which he is under no obligation to do at all. Certainly, when you think of some drivers that do their damnedest to avoid the corporate work they are paid to do, it is quite a difference.

One thing Martin Brundle said about him that I have never been able to disagree with is that he can be either of two drivers, as the situation needs – when the car is good but behind a slower car, he will pull off his trademark overtaking moves. Always fair, but usually unconventional. However, when he is in the slower car, he never gets in other peoples’ way. Sure, he will defend the position, but never does anything stupid. He always seems to know when it is better to just bring the car home rather than risk having an off defending an undefendable place. A very fair driver, in the best sense.

Let’s hope Kobayashi gets a few more podiums this season, a good sponsor, and a nice contract for next year. He deserves them.

27
Tm from Finland

Personally I think Alguersuari will get a sauber seat next year, due to the fact he knows the 2013 tyres inside out due to his work as Pirelli test driver and this will prove a useful asset. Hopefully that doesn’t mean that Kamui doesn’t get a drive with them next season.

28

I was under the impression Alguesuari was headed or Sauber. That would give Sauber the freedom to run a rookie in the other seat. I hope they don’t though. Kamui deserves another season.

29

If Sauber drop Kobayashi, is there a chance for either of the old Toro Rosso boys: Alguersuari or Buemi?

Both are good drivers with about the same amount of experience as Kobayashi. Sauber will need an experienced driver if they promote Gutierrez next year. Alguersuari comes with knowledge of Pirelli tires. Buemi is Swiss as are the Sauber team. I think most people rated them pretty equally. I like Alguersuari and would like to see him back on the grid.

I don’t know how much sponsorship money, if any, either would bring to Sauber.

Is Heikki Kovaleinen still looking for a seat further up the grid? He’d be a terrific replacement for Kobayashi – big team experience, can help develop a car (something Caterham has stalled at apparently), a veteran to pair with the youngster Gutierrez.

30

I was against Jaime and Seb being dropped for 2 unknowns last year. Both were doing OK, and it seems both TR drivers should be dropped this year if last years rules and parameters were to be applied.

But to suggest Seb or Jaime are better racers…I can’t see it.

Heikki had his chance (maybe too early) to prove himsef with Mclaren.

31

I agree with a lot of the comments above – given the (entirely justifiable) hype surrounding Perez, I think the fact Kamui has out-qualified him this season and isn’t a million miles behind in the WDC standings reflects very well indeed. But then again, I am a big Kamui fan so I would say that 😉 If Sauber do let him go, I’d like to see him join another team and come back to haunt them!

If he does end up his place in F1, though, he can leave knowing he’s made a far bigger impact on F1 than virtually all of his mid-grid peers. The string of overtakes at Suzuka 2010. Passing Schumi on the grass at Turkey 2011. The whole circuit chanting his name at Suzuka this year. I can see him joining the Toyota Le Mans setup just in time to give his old team their first La Sarthe win.

On another note, it would be very interesting to know how much of the speed of this year’s Sauber is down to the input of the respective drivers, especially seeing as James Key left over the winter…

32

Actually not much. Sauber is a team that seams to work under principle shut-up & drive. There have been complains from drivers in past.

33

If Sauber are forced to beg for money and go pay driver route (I am not going to judge them for this) and have 1 rookie and 1 newcomer, then DEFINITELY development will suffer. Signs of being left behind in development will start to show at around Spanish GP next year..

34

Isnt Hulkenburg backed by Dekra Automotives? I am not really sure but I have seen a few tweets of him doing PR work for them. Also he wears a Dekra cap rather than a Force India cap which diResta wears.

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