Its really disappointing to be having to write about Kamui Kobayashi not being in Formula One in 2013. The very popular Japanese driver scored his first podium finish in his home race in 2012, and was only 6 points behind his teammate. But whereas Sergio Perez has left Sauber to join McLaren, Kobayashi finds himself on the sidelines. This was despite his fans creating a fund to try and buy him a drive, but none were forthcoming.
Kobayashi tried a different route to F1 than most other Japanese drivers before him. He has never raced in his home Formula Nippon series, instead competing in Europe. He started in the Formula Renault 2000 series, before winning the Formula Renault Eurocup championship in 2005, winning six races. The fact he also won the Formula Renault 2.0 Italy championship in the same year showed off his potential.
He advanced to Formula 3 Euro Series with the ASM Formule 3 team, winning once in two years, finishing 8th and then 4th in the final standings. He was also Toyota Racing’s test driver in 2007. He won two races in the 2008 GP2 Asia series, finishing 6th in the championship. He won once in the main series of GP2 in the same year, but was a lowly 16th in the championship.
He returned to the GP2 Asia series for the 2008/09 season, and won twice again, however this time it was on route to the overall championship with the DAMS team. His 2009 GP2 season was far less impressive however, winning only once and finishing 16th for a second consecutive season.
When Timo Glock crashed heavily in the Japanese Grand Prix of 2009, Kobayashi as official test driver, having competed in a few Friday morning sessions, was called up. He started out in Brazil, before finishing his second race in Abu Dhabi in the points in 6th position.
A full time drive with Toyota was likely, but the team pulled out of Formula 1 before this could happen. It was lucky then that Peter Sauber and his team saw the potential and hired him as one of their drivers. In 2010, he finished 10th in the championship with 32 points and a best finish of 6th at Silverstone. In 2011, he again finished 12th, this time with 30 points, with a best finish of 5th in Monaco.
2012 saw Kamui improve once again. His home race of the year at the legendary Suzuka circuit saw him score an emotional and very popular podium finish. His results throughout the season were strong, but it seemed his teammate was getting all the praise. Perez scored three podiums to Kamui’s one, but only scored 6 more points during the season.
So now Sauber have changed both drivers. Perez has gone to McLaren, while Nico Hulkenberg moves to the team from Force India. In the current economic climate, it wasn’t a surprise that a driver with money would get the second seat. Carlos Slim, a very rich Mexican businessman, had invested in Perez’s career & Sauber drive, and insisted to Sauber that they’d need to hire another one of his investments to keep his money coming into the team. So Esteban Gutierrez got the call, and Kamui got released. His popularity was such that a lot of fans around the world got together and raised well in excess of $1million, but no drive was forthcoming. He hopes to return in 2014, and I for one hope that it happens. However, if I wouldn’t be surprised if the F1 door that opened when Timo Glock crashed, might be slowly closing on the very popular Kamui Kobayashi.