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If you watched the Japanese Grand Prix this past weekend, you saw a bit of an exhibition from local hero Kamui Kobayashi. The aggressive driving style that delighted F1 fans last year was back and in full force. The Japanese driver pulled off some impressive passing moves and was picking off foes like a seasoned veteran. Many have commented on his bravery and can-do attitude and this weekend proved that Kamui may just be the “real thing” when it comes to successful and talented Japanese drivers.

All the accolades are well placed and Kobayashi has a ride for 2011 with Sauber but how long will that last with Telmex CEO Carlos Slim’s money and two Mexican drivers squarely planted at the team? Speed TV’s Will Buxton had a very real and fair look at the waning market that is Japan in the sport of F1. I thought it was well reasoned and spoke to the culminating details that, when combined, show a country falling away from the sport.

No Honda, Toyota, Fuji circuit or Fuji TV host broadcast as has always been the norm. Kobayashi was groomed by Toyota’s racing program and got his shot in the seat last year subbing for injured Timo Glock. He made a name for himself and is truly sitting on the grid on merit alone as the Japanese interest in F1 has tarnished over the last 18 months.

I was reading Mr. Noble’s article regarding the hopes of Peter Sauber with regards to this issue. Sauber is suggesting that maybe Kobayashi’s drive Sunday could renew some interest in sponsorship for the driver and team and while I tend to hope with him, I also understand what that ultimately means. Mr. Kobayashi would do well to find some sponsors from Japan to help maintain his career past 2011.

As Speed’s Buxton pointed out, the Japanese Grand Prix could be at risk should other venues come online. The attendance is down, the manufacturers have gone and the two remaining Japanese drivers have little backing from home. It’s a sad situation that faces the reality of F1 unabated. Having watched numerous Japanese drivers try to enter F1 on the coattails of a Japanese manufacturer and fail, we finally have a driver that has the talent and now no vehicle in which to support him.

If Kobayashi’s career falters it will be the case of horrible timing because I think the young man has what it takes to be a very good driver in F1. He shows several signs of bravery, pace and control that Nakajima, Sato and Yamamoto do not. It truly is a shame if it doesn’t happen for Kobayashi because this is the one driver the land of the rising sun should be getting behind.

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • positiveCamper

    I would like to think he can remain in the sport on his own merits. He has shown speed and an ability to pass. Top-notch F1 Japanese drivers are as rare as hen’s teeth, and I think Kobayashi could have what it takes. The fact that the Japanese crowd sat through a deluge all day Saturday to see practically nothing at all speaks to their commitment. Honda’s interest in F1 has been cyclical. It could well be that they come back soon. Then there is always the possibility of Yamaha (wow! their F1 engine was a disaster!) or Toyota returning, or of Mazda or Nissan joining. It would be a shame to waste Kobayashi’s talent and the Japanese market. The worst shame of all would be losing Suzuka as a circuit.

  • Steven

    Like PositveCamber, I too feel that Koba should be in the sport on his own merit, while I know that money talks, Peter Sauber would be doing himself and the team a dis-service by replacing him for pay drivers. Kamui has been a regular point scorer when he’s had the car, as I see it he is an asset to the team, the more points a team scores the more money it gets. Plus the fact that his exiting driving puts the car on the TV screens longer and in the news days after the race also means more exposure for the sponsors and therefore more money and more sponsors, so n financial terms I think its better for Mr. Sauber to keep him. And he is also fast!

  • I’ve always liked Japanese drivers. They always show that extra ingredient to put salt and pepper in every race. I still remember Takuma Sato in Jordan. He deserved a good chance in a better team, but it happened the same thing of always with Japanese drivers, they stay in a team protected by a sponsor. When the sponsor goes out, the Jap driver goes out too. Fortunately this is not the case of Kamuisan. Just let’s give him time.

  • Tony Greene

    IMHO, Kobe has to be the revelation of the season. A lot of great drivers have been lost in the money cracks throughout F1’s history and it would be a shame if here were added to that list.

  • Girts

    I don’t think that the only way for Kamui to stay in F1 is by getting a big money bag from some Japanese company. He can find a sponsor in Europe as he has been racing there for many years. Kamui is not the typical Japanese F1 driver, he is very European. If KK becomes more consistent and makes less mistakes, I think he will have no problem with getting a sponsor. In fact, if he proves his ability to be a top driver, one of the big teams will be keen to get him even without any sponsors.

    • It certainly isn’t the only avenue but seems the most logical that a Japanese sponsor would be the best chance. Perhaps seeking sponsor money from AsiaPac would be more realistic at this point?

      • Girts

        You are absolutely right. I just wanted to point out that disappearance of Japan from F1 world would not necessarily mean the end of KK’s career. Otherwise Kubica would never have had a chance to get where he is today as Poland had nothing to do with F1 before Kubica. It is just so that drivers without a stable background need to work harder and be better in order to achieve the same place under the sun as e.g. Vettel or Hamilton who were supported by large organisations long before they turned 18.

  • Williams4ever

    @+camper, steven – agree that Kamui is real deal and it would be shame if his team principle is expecting personal sponsorship money from him in addition to revenue he is generating for the team by scoring valuable constructors points. My respect for Mr. Sauber would take huge hit if he acts greedy.

    @Mario – so true about Takuma Sato. Having interacted with engineers that worked Takuma & Playboy Button (jr), I can tell how he suffered silently in the team that designed understeering car to favor button. BAR left no stone unturned to tarnish reputation of Sato & he behaved like true gentleman. Point to note that all the while the team was being funded by Japanese sponsors and managed by British Management. Nick fry didn’t leave stone unturned to fail Super aguri when the minnows started whooping A-Team.

    @Girts – finding sponsors in Europe/Britain? You surely must be joking. Or as the wise girl @F1B has quoted – Are you new to F1? Modus operandi of F1 fraternity is “for the Brits(Europeans) by the Brits(Europeans) at cost of rest of the world”

    • Girts

      I didn’t say anything about Britain. Britain is just one small part of Europe, which, by the way, consists of 50 countries. And F1 teams have a lot of European sponsors, just take a closer look at the Williams team.

      • Williams4ever

        Yes the closer I look at my team, more I get worried which of their next Brit/European sponsor goes Baghur (or whatever their icelandic sponsor was). In case you are not aware both Williams and Renault are in race to woo American sponsor….

    • The Imperative Voice

      I’m not too worried about Kobayashi finding a ride. He’s 12th in the drivers’ table and ahead of young prospects like Petrov and Hulkenberg, as well as whole teams like Toro Rosso and the backmarkers. If he gets jettisoned for another Mexican at Sauber, he’ll land on his feet elsewhere — just like he did this year (lest we forget, he was out of a Toyota ride and looking for work this time last year).

      I think the potential of pay-driving Mexican drivers staffing Sauber says more about the state of the series than it does about Kobayashi. When a team with their driver history has a relatively empty car of sponsor ads, and has moved from veterans to kids with sponsors, they’re clearly shifting to more of a back-of-pack mentality. We can make light of the HRTs of the series but Sauber is headed in that direction. It might not be the worst thing in the world if Kobayashi has to find another seat and chances into a better funded team.

      Perhaps we can speak with Sato when he has a minute after his next IndyCar crash. Guy can’t stay in the race doing nothing but left turns. Dude’s overrated, IMO.

  • gsprings

    well,there’s always indycar

  • Patrick

    i don’t think theres going to be a problem with Kobayashi’s seat at Sauber, as of now Panasonic is interested in backing Kobayashi, so there’s going to be a Telmex, Panasonic, Sauber Ferrari, and anyway i think either Perez or most likely Kobayashi are going to go to a better team and make room for Gutierrez.
    kobayashi has proven that he is one of the best overtakers, so many teams would love to have him.