Kamui Kobayashi’s hard-charging style made him a favourite with fans – so much so that they helped fund his return to F1 last year.
Kobayashi’s gutsy race craft impressed many when he made his F1 debut at the end of 2009 as a substitute for injured Toyota driver Timo Glock. He twice went wheel-to-wheel with new champion Jenson Button and beat team mate Jarno Trulli to sixth at Yas Marina.
Unfortunately for Kobayashi, Toyota pulled the plug on its F1 programme at the end of the year. But he’d already done enough to claim a place on the grid for the following year.
BMW also canned its F1 programme at the end of 2009, but its team returned to founder Peter Sauber, who took a gamble on Kobayashi. Although unreliability dogged the team early in the year, by mid-season Kobayashi was back among the points-scorers.
His most memorable performance that year came at Valencia, where an alternative tyre strategy helped him pass Fernando Alonso and, on the final lap, Sebastien Buemi for seventh place. He went one better next time out at Silverstone, and by the end of the year had contributed more to Sauber’s points tally than team mates Pedro de la Rosa and Nick Heidfeld.
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The 2011 season began on a sour note: Kobayashi and new team mate Sergio Perez were disqualified having finished in the points at the season-opener at Melbourne. Kobayashi bounced back with six consecutive points finishes, including a fifth place at Monaco which was his best result so far.
In 2012 Perez’s star rose higher, and Kobayashi found himself increasingly eclipsed. While his less experienced team mate collected a trio of podium finishes, question grew over when Kobayashi might do the same.
Spa was an agonising missed opportunity. Having claimed his first and so far only front row start alongside pole sitter Button, Kobayashi was eliminated in a first-corner crash triggered by Romain Grosjean.
Ironically a similar incident involving Grosjean at Suzuka played into Kobayashi’s hands. It helped him into second place, and although he lost a place to Felipe Massa he withstood pressure from Button to claim his first podium finish. That, however, was not enough to keep him at Sauber for another year.
After losing his seat at Sauber, Kobayashi took the unusual route of inviting fans to contribute towards a fund to keep him in Formula One. Although he was unable to secure a place on the grid for 2013, the Kamui Support initiative landed him a place at Caterham for 2014.
However the Renault-powered CT05 proved both unreliable and slow. At the first race of the year a brake-by-wire glitch caused a substantial crash involving Massa’s Williams. The team was sold at mid-season, and following the Russian Grand Prix it went into administration.
Although it reappeared for the final race of the year in Abu Dhabi – thanks to another crowdfund – Kobayashi retired from the race, and was again left without a seat for the new season.
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