|23. Kamui Kobayashi – BMW Sauber Ferrari
Few had heard of Kamui Kobayashi until late last year, and even fewer would have predicted that this son of a sushi restaurateur would become Japan’s next big F1 prospect.
A couple of combative stand-in drives for Toyota at the end of the 2009 season belied the inconsistent form he had shown in the GP2 series, and had Toyota have continued in F1 into 2010, he would certainly be with the Japanese marque.
Devastated at their sudden withdrawal at season’s end, Kamui looked to be without a drive until Peter Sauber – ever the talent-spotter – hired him as part of the recently re-formed team.
Kamui’s promising form in karting and the junior Japanese series marked him as a future talent, and he was duly picked up as part of Toyota’s driver development scheme to create future drivers for its F1 project.
Kamui did what many aspiring F1 drivers do by venturing to Europe, where he won the Eurocup and Italian Formula Renault titles at this second attempt.
But the momentum didn’t carry into the F3 Euro Series, and he only took a single race victory while other contestants – most notably Sebastian Vettel, Paul di Resta and Romain Grosjean – achieved greater success.
It appeared to come good at that year’s Macau F3 race when Kamui took pole, but he crashed shortly after crossing the finishing line. His car repaired, he won the qualification heat in a dominating display, and then got involved in a start line pileup in the feature race. A portent of things to come?
These issues aside, Toyota still committed to him and started using him for some F1 testing, in addition to posting him to the DAMS GP2 team for the 2008 season. He won on his second outing courtesy of a penalty to Grosjean, but his form faltered and he was often mired in the midfield.
While he may have taken the spoils in the GP2 Asia championship, this probably had more to do with Nico Hülkenberg only contesting a couple of rounds that season. Rather than build on that success, his campaign that followed in the main GP2 series was desperately poor, and his chances of securing an F1 seat looked dead in the water.
With Toyota seemingly set to drop him from their young driver roster, fate intervened in the form of a qualifying accident to Timo Glock at Suzuka, which vaulted Kamui into the big time for his debut at the 2009 Brazilian GP.
Despite his lack of testing time, he showed incredible grit with a couple of combative drives at Brazil and Abu Dhabi. He couldn’t convert is speed into points at Sao Paulo, and he was criticised by a few drivers for his (they felt) vigorous defence of his position. He blotted his copybook with a rough move on Kazuki Nakajima that sent the Williams into a frightening accident.
But Abu Dhabi saw a more measured performance, where Kamui vaulted from the midfield to sixth, overtaking Jenson Button and outperforming his more fancied team-mate, Jarno Trulli.
On the basis of these drives, Kamui was all but guaranteed a seat at Toyota in 2010. But then Toyota decided to pull the pin on its winless F1 project…
- A combative and seemingly fearless racer who appears quite comfortable mixing it with the big boys.
- His pace in GP2 was very questionable and his F1 reputation is based on two season-ending outings that – while promising – were a little wild. Can he sustain decent form for a full season?
What defines success in 2010?
- Consistency in his race and qualifying pace.
- Consistent points finishes.
- Out-perform his more experienced team-mate, Pedro de la Rosa.
[Images via StatsF1]