Having dipped his toes into the tepid water of Formula 1 back in 2009 with the Toyota team, he was hooked but racing wasn’t something new to Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi. The Caterham F1 driver had cut his teeth in GP2 and Formula 3 Euro Series.
Having attached his career to Toyota, he made his way to a Formula 1 debut but when the team exited the series in 2009, Kamui was left with a real challenge—how to stay in F1.
The answer came with a ride at Sauber from 2010-2012. The ride was break for the fan-favorite driver from Japan in an era when Japan had all but left the series with very little sponsorship, driver investment or team presence.
As F1 slid into even deeper financial challenges—Sauber being a team in considerable financial straights—the concept of paying drivers began to be prolific up and down the paddock. Kobayashi could not muster the cash needed, nor was he supported from Japan, in order to retain his ride.
This is where the story of Kobayashi gets interesting. In 2013, Kamui signed with AG Corse to compete in the FIA World Endurance Championship. As a Ferrari driver, he seemed to have discovered a second life within sports car racing and yet when the opportunity arose to join Caterham in 2014, he chucked it all away for the chance.
This week, Caterham boss Tony Fernandes has created a stir by tweeting “F1 hasn’t worked but love Caterham Cars,”. Suggestions that the team is being sold are ripe and Fernandes even offered an ultimatum at the beginning of the year telling the team they had better improve or else.
Obviously the “or else” scenario has played out as the team is squarely in last place in the Constructor’s Championship and this leaves big questions over Kobayashi’s career once again.
No one can deny his desire to drive in F1 but there is a nagging concern that maybe his career and cash would have been better served staying in the WEC series with AF Corse. You can’t deny his passion for F1 but you can deny the future of Caterham F1 based upon the rumors and actions of its owner, Tony Fernandes. A sale of the team seems eminent and worse, it could fold completely. Kamui told Sky Sports F1:
“I’m not really looking at that,” he says. “Of course, I’m not wishing these stories. I’m here for driving – me, I can’t change anything, you know? I cannot bring any money or stuff.
“Financially, I think we’re in a very difficult situation but I cannot do anything so I just focus on my job. That’s part of my job actually: I’ll just try for a better result as much as I can.
“I just hope that somebody can help this team. This is the only thing I can say.”
In fairness to Kobayashi, Caterham were on the move a few years ago. They were vibrant, positive and had Tony Fernandes and Mike Gascoyne at the helm. Then the wheels fell off. Tony took his eye off the ball and purchased Queens Park Rangers—who just received an £80million payday for reaching the Premier League—and then he shuffled Mike Gascoyne out of the team and into boats of all things.
I’ll be honest; Tony has no one to blame but himself. He’s an airline tycoon and was infectious in spirit to the team. He was a leader of Caterham and fought a long battle with Lotus for the naming rights. He was their backbone and when he dropped it like it’s hot, he sealed his own doom in F1. I was very disappointed with Tony and Mike when they walked away from the team leaving a crew there to threaten in 2014.
Now Kamui is left with his own Kobayashi Maru. A no win situation in which he most likely will lose his ride due to a lack of funds for a paying driver option and his departure from F1 will be a sad affair indeed. Let’s hope another team retains Kamui or if Caterham is sold, they choose to keep him onboard.
Of all times to see Japan withdraw from F1, it had to be just when they delivered a driver very capable of competing in the series. Again, it’s the Kobayahsi Maru and there seems to be no way to win in F1. Let us hope Kamui can find a home at Ferrari again in WEC.