Toyota's Demise, A Driver's Dream Over?

Antony HerbertAnalyst IIINovember 4, 2009

SUZUKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 02:  Kamui Kobayashi of Japan and Toyota prepares to drive during practice for the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 2, 2009 in Suzuka, Japan.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

With the final Japanese team disappearing from the track and Kazuki Nakajima expected to be demoted from the sport due to lacklustre performances it is looking worringly likely that Japan may have no representation for the 2010 season, except of course for the Grand Prix in Suzuka.

Teams from Japan have been moderately successful but it is the drivers who have floundered most. Only Aguri Suzuki back in the eighties and early nineties is worthy of note. Japan essentially has never given us a driver capable of great things.

Let’s just hope then that someone snaps up one Kamui Kobayashi. Despite wallowing in sixteenth in the GP2 series the twenty-three year old from Amagasaki burst onto the scene replacing an injured Timo Glock and instantly created a buzz about himself. An impressive debut in Brazil saw him qualify just outside the top 10 and finish just outside the points with a performance that caused many to take note.

Yet it was his wondrous display of speed in Abu Dhabi which really got people noticing. After qualifying twelfth he managed at one point to be putting the pressure on Brawn drivers Button and Barrichello for a podium, eventually using his one stop strategy to full its full potential and finishing sixth in only his second race.

The most remarkable thing about this was that it was in a Toyota car which had lost its way in the second half of the season. Where Trulli qualified well up the grid and inevitably fell backwards, Kobayashi appeared to be bucking that trend by moving his car forwards and carrying further momentum into a promising career.

He may still be a flash in the pan, but the signs are clearly there for a promising young sports man to elevate himself to the highest step of the podium in the highest tear of world of motor sport.

He was set to be named as a full term driver for Toyota and the optimistic spectators would have been given the wondering thought as to whether Kobayashi could attempt to break the victory drought that Toyota had suffered since their introduction to the sport.

A credible Japanese driver in a capable Japanese team was a mouth watering prospect as well as a predictable one. It gave hope after a down turn in the fortunes and pace that occurred in the latter stages of the 2009 season.

Sadly this dream now all seems to be in tatters as Toyota’s financial position and lack of determination has thrown away Kobayashi’s immediate chances of a confirmed 2010 drive.

It is now up to the talented driver to look for a seat elsewhere, a drive away from his comfort zone.

His saving grace is that there is the additional two and possibly three teams to compete next year. With the probable demise of Nakajima and the relegation of Giancarlo Fisichella to test driver for Ferrari that leaves six or eight driver positions available for Kamui to snap up. Bruno Senna has one of them already but the room for a place is there.

The burdening question is to whether any team will take a chance on Kobayashi and allow him the opportunity to build upon his fantastic opening.

Too many drivers in the past have come and gone in too quick a fashion, Anthony Davidson being the most recent example. Sometimes drivers although talented are squeezed out of a drive and sent to a place of oblivion that allows them for some reason or another to never return.

Teams will look to Kobayashi’s past and see a last season in GP2 which gave little to offer. There have been a few moments of glory in the GP2 Asia series in 2008/9 and the Italian Formula Renault series in 1995. Is this enough to sustain a career in Formula 1 however?

Hopefully one team will allow Kamui to at least test for them and allow the youngsters pace to speak for itself. Even if it emerges he was a one trick pony at least he was given the opportunity to succeed. And who knows, he may just be what the sport needs; an Asian and Japanese driver able to do what few have done before him and create a legend.