Kamui Kobayashi's Return to F1 Made Possible by Fan Donations, but No Fairytale

Mark PattersonUK Staff WriterJanuary 22, 2014

Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi of Japan holds a scarf during the drivers parade before  the Indian Formula One Grand Prix, at the Buddh International Circuit in Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Greg Baker)
Greg Baker/Associated Press

Kamui Kobayashi was confirmed as a Caterham driver in an announcement on Tuesday, meaning that the popular Japanese racer will be back on the F1 grid after a year's absence.

The 27-year-old's comeback owes much to the support of fans as he sought a budget that would make him an attractive proposal.

He started a Support Kamui website shortly after his career halted in 2012, and at his unveiling credited supporters for his return, as he explained in quotes carried by CNN:

I want to give special thanks to all the fans who have made donations to Kamui Support.

Their donations and gestures gave me extra strength to come back fighting and I am very pleased that the money they raised not only helped me but will now go to helping Caterham progress this year.

Every single one of you who helped with Kamui Support will race with me in 2014 and that makes me very proud.

It's a great feeling to be back as an F1 race driver.

Kobayashi burst on to the scene in some style as a Toyota driver late in 2009, and looked destined for big things. 

Toyota's withdrawal from F1 complicated matters, but he found a seat at Sauber and spent three seasons with the team.

His run came to an end in 2012, however, after a frustrating campaign in which he was outscored by teammate Sergio Perez. Perez's performances earned him a shot with McLaren, while Kobayashi found himself on the F1 scrapheap.

There had only been six points between them in the year.

However, Sergio Perez had 66 points and the prospect of lucrative backing from Telmex.

The telecommunications firm from Mexico, owned by billionaire Carlos Slim, had supported him throughout his career.

Kobayashi had 60 points, but nothing like the financial clout.

Like it or not, at the tier below exceptional—where everyone except the world champions reside—money talks. 

Matthew Walthert took a look at the stifling costs of F1 for us earlier this week.

If, rather than paying a driver for their services, you can be on the upside of the deal once sponsorships and endorsements are factored in, it's too tempting to do anything else.

If the trade-off is a couple of tenths of a second on the track for a couple of noughts on the bank balance, it's usually a price worth paying. 

Which brings us back to Kobayashi, who appears to have realised instantly that the only way he could return to the grid was to work within its unwritten financial rules.

As CNN's report explains, it quickly became apparent that "Support Kamui" would not generate enough backing for him to end up in F1 in 2013, so all money raised went forward to this season.

Is Kobayashi's return a Formula 1 fairytale? Or just a reminder of F1's gaping inequalities?

Realistically, it's a little of both. F1 is not about fairness, and don't let Bernie Ecclestone or anyone else ever let you believe otherwise. It's a sport of ruthlessness, ostentation and fractions, and there's very little room for sentiment.

Furthermore, his return is to Caterham, a team who have yet to register a point in F1. It's the equivalent of playing football for Aston Villa, being frozen out of the FA Cup, and finally making your triumphant cup return with Rotherham. 

However, if you accept that as your inevitable starting point, there's much to cheer about Kobayashi's return. He's a character. He's probably on pure speed one of the 22 best drivers in the world. And on the same tarmac as the best, he has a chance to prove himself.