The announcement that Kamui Kobayashi is returning to the F1 grid this year with Caterham was greeted positively by F1 fans and it was noticeable in the Caterham factory yesterday how buoyed the team were with his signing.
Kobayashi lost his place on the F1 grid in 2013 because he couldn’t rustle up a budget, with Japanese businesses unwilling to find him. He has returned on a deal whereby he appears to be racing effectively for nothing, with Caterham believing that preferable to running a pay driver with less talent and pulling power with fans.
Now he’s regained his place, Kobayashi believes that Honda’s return to Formula One as an engine supplier in 2015 will offer fresh possibilities to get support in Japan to cement his place on the grid long term.
After two Grands Prix for Toyota in 2009, a successful three years with Sauber followed, including a popular Suzuka podium in 2012 that thrust him in to the limelight and made him the best Japanese driver of his generation. But with budget constraints restricting his ability to compete last year, he joined Ferrari’s GT team and turned his attention to a 2014 race seat.
“I have to say, I think with Honda returning to Formula One there is more chances for us,” said Kobayashi at the Caterham HQ yesterday.
“After announcing that I am driving for Caterham today it will take one or two years, but next year there will be more of a chance, when Honda are back. There will be a bigger TV audience and more media.”
As with all returning and rookie drivers in Formula One budget plays a vital role, and without it a driver needs to have an exceptional talent to take a seat at one of the best teams – examples like Lewis Hamilton in 2007 and Kevin Magnussen this year are few and far between. And with Kobayashi racing unpaid this year it gives a sign of the determination needed to have the eventual shot at a bigger team.
Kobayashi reiterated this by saying that he spoke to a couple of teams required backing from him, and as he could not match their requirements he had to look elsewhere. When asked at what point he first met Tony Fernandes, Kobayashi said that the end of December was the first time they had met to discuss their 2014 plans.
This is surprising given his time out of Formula One last year and prompted a question regarding whether he had spoken to other teams.
“Well I was talking with other teams, but it’s all about money. They say that if we could bring a sponsor then they would hire me, but I can never get a sponsor. So that’s why I had no previous chances.”
Kobayashi became a fan favourite thanks to his battling style, with some sublime overtakes. However he would be the first to admit he struggled with consistency, especially in qualifying performance. He and Caterham have a programme to work on this in the simulator and it will be very interesting to see whether he can raise his consistency level to the point where he is able to deliver close to the maximum every qualifying session.