Kamui Kobayashi: An Expensive Loss?
Toyota's recent decision to leave Formula One at the end of 2009 has left many jobs in doubt, just as it did with Honda this time last season. One man who could certainly feel down on his luck following the news is 23-year-old Japanese starlet Kamui Kobayashi, who filled in for an "injured" Timo Glock for the final two races of 2009.
With Glock imminent to leave Toyota anyway, one could wonder how serious the German's injuries actually were. But in a season where new drivers struggled to make a real impression, such as Jaime Alguersuari or Romain Grosjean, Kobayashi was the stand-out performer.
The young Japanese driver first got a taste of Formula One action covering for an unwell Glock in the Friday practice sessions at Suzuka. It may well have been a track that Kobayashi knew well, but any observer could tell that the raw pace was certainly there. To finish 11th in a practice session in very heavy rain, in his first ever drive in F1, was certainly not shameful.
As fate may have it, Glock returned to the Toyota cockpit on Saturday only to crash heavily in the second phase of qualifying, and his injuries (according to the doctors, at least) were enough to keep the German out of the final two races in Brazil and Abu Dhabi. Kobayashi knew that the opportunity was there to be grasped with both hands.
And boy, did he.
Once again, Kobayashi took to the track in a washout session, this time in qualifying in Brazil, and underlined his skill in wet weather by lining up 11th on the grid. Even more impressively, he held his own in the race and kept his pace quick and steady to eventually finish an almost unthinkable 9th.
Kobayashi did not go without his critics. His time in GP2 was clear to see for everybody, as he drove extremely defensively, often becoming borderline dangerous. Jenson Button, who was made world champion on that special day in Brazil, labelled Kobayashi "crazy" after the race, and compatriot Kazuki Nakajima could also be forgiven for feeling frustrated after crashing into Kobayashi's rear mid-way through the race.
But however "dangerous" Kobayashi really was, some things were certainly clear: He was quick, consistent, and afraid of nobody at all. He even replied to the new world champion's remarks, saying he "did not care" what anyone thought of his driving.
And so the story continued. Glock was advised not to race in Abu Dhabi, and Kobayashi took his game up another gear. Another solid qualifying performance left him in 12th, but the race really underlined what potential young Kobayashi really has.
Only his second race in Formula One, and under floodlights, Kobayashi continued to defy the odds with a stunning performance to finish sixth, and to cap it all off, he even put a move on the newly-crowned champion. Crazy he may well be, but aren't racers all a crazy breed?
Toyota's recent decision, however, will have fallen on Kobayashi like a dagger to his heart; the Japanese outfit had heavily backed him and now they are not in Formula One at all. With very few seats remaining in the Formula One grid, Kobayashi's chances of a 2010 race seat hang by a thread.
And the biggest shame is that he has no more funding to compete in GP2. If Kobayashi cannot find a place on the grid with what looks most likely to be one of the new entrants, he has no option but to go back to Japan and work in his father's restaurant.
Motorsport is an expensive business. Could losing Kamui Kobayashi be an expensive mistake?
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