Kamui Kobayashi had the rather unfortunate distinction of being the first driver to retire from a Grand Prix in the 2014 season, after suffering a brake failure on the run into Turn 1 at the Australian Grand Prix, triggering a collision with the rear of Felipe Massa’s Williams.
But his performance prior to that point had been impressive, and probably exceeded his expectations as well. Having lost all of his Friday practice running in Melbourne, Kobayashi had just one hour of Saturday practice before qualifying got underway.
Added to that, the heavens opened, but Kamui knuckled down to the task and hauled the CT05 into the second phase of qualifying, landing the sixteenth-fastest time, which became fourteenth on the grid after grid penalties for Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Gutiérrez.
“It went well,” he told RichardsF1.com during a one-on-one interview on the Thursday of the Malaysian Grand Prix.
“Given we didn’t have any running to speak of in Friday practice, so making Q2 was a great result.
But it all came to nought on Sunday.
“I felt bad for Felipe; his race was ruined too,” Kobayashi rued.
Kobayashi was roundly criticised by Massa immediately following the crash – the Brazilian went as far as hinting that the Japanese driver should be sanctioned by the FIA – but a braking failure was ultimately ruled to be the cause.
“I was not happy with the criticism [at the time]: how am I meant to stop the car when I have no brakes at all? I simply couldn’t avoid him.
Did Felipe later apologise for his outburst? “Not at the time, but I talked with him today and he understood it wasn’t my fault.
The most important aim that weekend was to get mileage and finish the race. At the moment, we still don’t have a clear picture of the car’s performance because my race lasted until the first corner. It was really unfortunate we didn’t finish the race.”
What Kamui needs most of all is time behind the wheel. The CT05 appears to be a solid platform – certainly if qualifying was anything to by – but it’s difficult, as he admitted, to have a clear picture of the team’s relative position in the pecking order.
“Still, I need to get more confident with the CT05, and that will come from more time behind the wheel.
“But there was definitely a sense of progression with each outing in the car. We improved and progressed in our understanding of the car since testing, but of course we need more time – Marcus and I – and we haven’t had enough as yet. More mileage will be helpful, but we understand our current situation. Nonetheless, the performance we were able to show in Australia was positive.
While Kobayashi was left to have an early bath, teammate Marcus Ericsoon (who qualified 20th) ran ahead of both Lotus and Marussia drivers, giving the team confidence that it could challenge the lower midfield this season.
“[The competitiveness] wasn’t a surprise, but it was positive news for us given our circumstances,” Kobayashi added.
The aim for Malaysia is simple: “Finish the race.
“I like this circuit. There’s a great mix of high and low speed corners, and the added complication of the temperature is another factor. But that’s the case for everybody, and if we can manage all the challenges, then we should do well.
“But the conditions will put our cars and the power units under pressure. We need more power to be more competitive,” he added, underlining the fact that the team’s engine partner, Renault, still has to make further strides in its performance.
Despite that, the reliability concerns won’t change his approach. Kobayashi is renowned for one style of driving: flat out.
“I can’t drive at 80%. If I was to tell Tony Fernandes that I only drove at 80% to protect the car, he’d probably fire me!” Kobayashi quipped.
Having had a busy pre-season, Kobayashi took a few days off back home in Japan before kicking off his preparations for this weekend’s driving at Sepang, one of the physically toughest events on the entire calendar.
“I took a bit of a break back in Japan to try and refresh. The previous two weeks had been very busy for me, so it gave me an opportunity to clear my mind, get some rest, and I’m here recharged and refreshed. I still did some promotional work for AirAsia, so I was kept busy.”
With several drivers and key figures being particularly vocal about the shift in regulations, Kobayashi – like Jenson Button – was a voice of reason, urging his fellow drivers and the broader sport as a whole to embrace the new regulations and the challenge they bring.
>”The technology has changed a lot during the off-season, but the driver is still the same: two arms, two legs. You can’t make them into superhumans in the off-season.
“At the moment, the technology is definitely in the spotlight. The drivers are almost like computers in some respect – it’s a lot more complex behind the wheel, but they still have to brake, turn and put their foot on the accelerator.
“Up and down the paddock, there are different opinions, and some drivers have been very vocal in their opposition or support.
“But what we all need to understand is how the technology will benefit the road driver and the environment. You need the technological change, or we’d still be driving the same kind of cars from 30 years ago. People want to buy cars with the latest technology, and Formula 1 needs to lead the way.”
We extend our thanks to the Caterham F1 Team’s media department for making this interview opportunity possible.
Images via RichardsF1.com and XPB Images