Kamui Kobayashi. Photo: Sauber Motorsport AG
The Belgian Grand Prix at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps was going to be Kamui Kobayashi’s big break: the Japanese driver had achieved the best qualifying result of his Formula 1 career, coming in second behind Jenson Button.
With no cars in front of him, all he needs to do is keep a steady pace, stay ahead of the pack and race onto a podium finish.
But it was not to be. Although in the front of the grid, Kobayaski’s Sauber got tangled in the multi-car bust-up in the first corner. The crash took out Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez, his fellow Sauber driver.
Kobayashi made it to the finish in 13th position despite the damage to his car from the incident.
"This is a terrible race result after doing so well in qualifying. There was nothing I could do when a car comes flying into mine at the start," he says.
But despite the recent pitfall, Kobayashi is sanguine about his chances this season. “Overall we have done a good job and we made great things. The team built a very good car, with an excellent performance,” he tells inSing.com.
“Since the beginning of the season we have been competitive on most tracks. So we can be confident for the second half of the season. Nevertheless we definitely missed some opportunities for some more great results.”
“Too often we didn’t manage the weekend perfectly. If we can improve there, then we can achieve a lot,” Kobayashi continues.
Big shoes to fill
Kobayashi comes from a rare pedigree of Japanese drivers who have made it in Formula One. The Sauber driver is now in 12th place after clinching just two points after the Italian GP.
If it weren’t for Sauber’s owner Peter Sauber, Kobayashi’s stint in Formula One would have ended when Toyota pulled out in 2009. At the time, Kobayashi – who was supported and groomed for a long time by Toyota – impressed the F1 world with a couple of stirring performances whilst replacing injured Timo Glock.
Kobayashi however has big shoes to fill. The highest ever finish for a Japanese driver in F1, is third. In 1990, at the Japanese Grand Prix, Aguri Suzuki brought his Espo Larrousse home on the podium; and then in 2004, Takuma Sato repeated the feat at the United States GP, driving for BAR-Honda team.
“I want to get my first podium as soon as possible because we have a good car this season. I always want to achieve the maximum possible and I hope one day I am in the situation to realistically fight for the championship,” he says.
The upcoming Singapore Grand Prix will be Kobayashi’s third appearance on the Marina Bay Street Circuit and he’s looking forward to his time here.
“Singapore has a very special atmosphere, because it is in the city and it is at night. Night racing I must say gives me an extra motivation, and I really enjoy it a lot.”
“For preparation there is nothing special, really. I go to the region a bit earlier to adapt myself to the high humidity and then during the race weekend we live on European time. This is a bit funny sometimes but no problem,” he explains.
The new Sauber C31
Kobayashi along with teammate Sergio Perez drives the team’s latest Sauber C31 which was unveiled at the Circuito de Jerez, Spain earlier this year.
Like Ferrari, Lotus and Caterham, the car sports the now familiar-looking stepped 'platypus-style' nose to meet the latest FIA regulations regarding the height of the car’s front wing.
Cutaway F1 car. Image: Sauber Motorsport AG
Chief designer Matt Morris says the new car is "revolutionary where we had fresh ideas, particularly at the rear of the car, and it is an evolution where we knew we could carry over certain approaches. We had to improve on the weaknesses we identified on the C30 but at the same time we wanted to maintain our strengths.”
So after 13 races, did the changes work for Kobayashi and the team?
“The team in Hinwil has built an excellent car this year. It has improved in many regards and at some races and some times this year it was the overall fastest car on track. The Sauber C31-Ferrari can be competitive on all kinds of circuits – on fast ones [tracks] last year’s car was quick but this one also is good on slow ones,” he says.