Leslie’s Advent Calendar – December 17

December 17 – 小林可夢偉/Kamui Kobayashi

This is going to sound like I’m bragging, but bear with me while I make a point. I got great results in my Highers at school, and was chuffed to bits at the time. Shortly afterwards, however, I went to university and was suddenly faced with the realisation that now I was in higher education, nobody gave a monkey’s about what I did at high school. Now that I was there, I was going to be judged solely on how well I did at uni. It was a painful epiphany, but an important one nonetheless.

That’s why I chuckled so much at the way the form book from the lower formulae went right out the window the minute Kamui Kobayashi lowered his bum into an F1 seat. There must have been nineteen guys out there spitting teeth and shaking fists knowing they were faster than that backmarker from GP2. It hammered home to me how hard it is to talent-
spot at any level in any discipline of motorsport, because each formula and series has its own nuances that suit some drivers better than others. Obviously you’re not going to be six seconds off the pace in Formula Renault and then jousting for pole in an F1 car, but it’s nice to remember that as soon as you get into an Formula 1 car, you are judged almost exclusively on your performances in that car in that particular race.

Today’s posting is therefore devoted exclusively to Kamui Kobayashi, who has just secured a race seat for 2010 with the reformed Sauber team. In my opinion, this is absolutely fantastic news for everyone concerned with F1, and I really can’t wait for the season-opener now.

What I love most about Kobayashi-san is that he appears to be completely and utterly fearless. It is as if a young driver has been plucked straight out of the BTCC and plonked straight into a Formula One car, skipping all the bits of the driver’s apprenticeship where you are told to protect the car and not take risks. In the two races he contested at the tail end of 2009, he stuck the Toyota’s nose in places nobody else would dare and chucked the thing around the track as if he was go-karting on a mate’s stag night.

Needless to say, this led to immediate accusations of dangerous driving, particularly when he closed the door on compatriot Kazuki Nakajima and sent the Williams driver flying. Many were similarly unimpressed with his zig-zagging in front of then champion-elect Jenson Button, with Kamui keeping the Brawn driver behind him for a sizeable chunk of time on what was the Kobe man’s first ever race in an F1 car. Whenever criticisms like this are made about drivers, only one thing springs to my mind: it’s a RACE. Yes, I know moving in the braking zones and shifting more than once to block someone can be construed as dangerous, but let’s not forget that everyone is out there racing of their own free will and understands there is a chance they will be bumped by another car. Also, I’m talking about degrees here – in no way am I advocating some kind of carbon-fibre destruction derby, all I’m trying to say is that drivers like Kobayashi, Lewis Hamiltion and, let’s not forget, Ayrton Senna, shouldn’t be pilloried for being a little bit aggressive when it comes to defending their position on the track.

It was precisely this that impressed me so much about Kobayashi in Sao Paulo. It didn’t matter to him that he had the man who was hoping to become world champion right up his chuff, that he was in a slower car and that the guy ten metres behind had infinitely more experience. No, it was Kamui’s position, he had every right to be there, and if folk behind wanted past then they would have to fight their way through. This became all the more impressive when one watched the likes of Romain Grosjean almost apologetically diving out of the way of the charging Button and Vettel. In my book it doesn’t matter whether you’re driving a Ferrari or a Force India, whether you’ve been racing for two decades or two hours, if you have track position you have earned it on merit and you have every right on Earth to do everything in your power to retain it.

This fearlessness continued in Abu Dhabi, when Kimi Raikkonen and again Jenson Button were on the receiving end of Kobayashi’s take-no-
prisoners driving. Button might have been fat with fuel, but just having the balls to duke it out with three world champions – Jenson, Kimi and Fernando Alonso – on only your second race is pretty damn admirable. The Toyota ran as high as third place in that race, only struggling when it changed tyre compounds, and in two races Kobayashi had done more for Japan’s reputation in F1 than Kazuki Nakajima had in two seasons.

So how is Formula 1’s newest fan favourite going to get on in 2010? At the very least, he’s going to a good home. Peter Sauber is a man who knows how do to things sensibly and properly, and the Swiss team have won races in recent times under the BMW banner. That Sauber might not be the fastest thing out there given budgetary and time constraints, but you can be sure it won’t be the slowest car either. Just as importantly, Kobayashi will be surrounded by folk who know what they’re doing. Despite the name change, this is very much a continuation of BMW’s operation, so it won’t be a totally new experience for the whole team. That should be advantageous as the young Japanese driver gets to grips with the rigours of a full race season.

The question all my friends keep asking about Kamui is: when is he going to crash? True, the ex-Toyota pilot is one of these people who always looks like he’s about to have a massive accident, but then so did Felipe Massa in his early days. It would be disingenuous to assume he’ll go a whole season without putting a dent on a car, but anyone who manages to run so closely to so many other folk without sustaining serious damage has to be worth their salt. Not every race is going to be a thrill-a-minute adrenalin rush, either – there will be races where he’ll be well off the pace and times when he’ll be cruising mid-
field in a race of his own, only appearing on the TV screens when he pits or is lapped. But if we get as much excitement out of Kamui in 2010 as we did from him in the final two races of 2009 I won’t be disappointed.

And here’s a little thought to finish with. Unless I’ve missed something obvious, Sauber haven’t confirmed engines for 2010, have they? And anyway, do you remember who Sauber’s best mates were before BMW bought them over? Yes, a small manufacturer of chassis and engines from the centre of Italy who like to paint things red. First Japanese driver to race for Ferrari? Don’t bet against it.


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Filed under Formula 1, Japan

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