Caterham F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi was downbeat after Friday’s two practice sessions at the Singapore Grand Prix. After outgunning the Marussias on his return to the cockpit at Monza, the green machines were in the mix in FP1 but finished at the bottom of the timesheets in the second practice session under floodlights.
“Not good,” was his assessment of his day’s running when he spoke exclusively to RichardsF1.com after his a lengthy engineering debrief.
“It was a bit of a struggle today. It’s difficult to have confidence in the car and I couldn’t really push. I think I know enough about where the gaps are. We are a bit weaker everywhere; we need to study the data and do some homework overnight to see what we can do.”
When asked what specific aspects were the most troublesome – traction, braking, cornering, tyre management – he answered: “It’s everything, unfortunately.”
Like the rest of the field, it was Kamui’s first time adapting to the new radio regulations – ultimately watered down in a last-minute move by the FIA – which restricted the amount and type of information that teams could deliver to their drivers out on the track.
“For me, nothing’s changed. The updated rules made it a little easier for us, but I have enough experience to cope with it,” he said.
The team debuted the first major upgrade to its Renault-powered CT05 at last month’s Belgian Grand Prix – from which Kobayashi was sidelined while Audi WEC driver André Lotterer was given a run – and the signs at the next race in Monza were positive: Kobayashi outqualified and out-raced both Marussias and was less than a tenth of a second off the pace of one of the Lotus cars.
“We were quicker than the Marussias in Monza, which was very positive,” he said of the upgrade package. “This weekend we’re on a street circuit – the last of the season and very unique – but I expect that we will be more competitive over the remaining races. It has been a positive improvement, but the circuit layouts have to be considered when you look at the changes as well. At Monza it didn’t really feel like that big a step, but the upgrade will work differently on different circuits. So I can’t honestly say how much we have improved after just one race.”
To call Kobayashi’s 2014 season the most challenging of his career would be a master of understatement – “Yes, but I’m still here!” he exclaimed.
The former podium winner has found himself caught in the crossfire while the team transitioned to new ownership in the wake of Tony Fernandes’ decision to sell the team to an unnamed consortium of investors.
The team’s finances demanded some extra cash injection, and while Kobayashi has brought funding with him, that doesn’t guarantee his position. It’s a fact in evidence already, and a risk for the remainder of the season.
“I honestly don’t know if I’ll be on the grid at Suzuka. I’ll try to be, but it’s not my decision,” he shrugged.
Nonetheless, he remains hopeful that his efforts this year could be recognised in being given the opportunity to remain in the sport in 2015 or beyond.
“The challenge of coming into Formula 1 should be one that I enjoy; I’m not saying that life should be easy. Life can also be hard too,” he told us pragmatically.
“At the moment it’s very though and hard to like things, but my dream was to be a Formula 1 driver. It’s a privileged position. [As for 2015], I don’t know. It’s possibly still too early as even some of the top teams still haven’t sorted out their line-ups. I’m looking around, but it’s far too early to say something.”
The make-up of the 2015 grid looks to be getting younger and younger, as evidenced by Scuderia Toro Rosso’s hiring of teenage racer Max Verstappen. Does Kamui see this as a risk?
“Let’s not forget there was a precedent with Kimi Raikkonen, who came from Formula Renault straight into F1, so it’s really nothing new,” he said, sagely.
“I hope that Max will be successful, and if he’s not then it will prove that he wasn’t ready to make the step. I can’t say if it’s a good or bad thing, but you saw that Kimi’s move was right. Before Max is driving, there might be discussions among the drivers and the FIA, but I’m fine with whatever decision is taken.”
Does he feel that drivers in feeder series’ are being adequately supported to make the transition, and is he worried about the sometimes questionable standards that have been on display, such as the recent GP2 Series round at Monza?
“It’s difficult to say what is really right or wrong. The FIA is traditionally strict and consistent. I have my limit and I know where it is; some other drivers have different limits of what is acceptable in terms of risk,” he said.
“I’m still here in one piece! Motorsport is much safer today and there has been so much development over the last twenty years. You must give credit to the FIA for what they have done.”
Images via XPB Images