Posts Tagged ‘jenson button’

Twelve months ago Kamui Kobayashi made his Formula 1 debut in the race which saw Jenson Button claim his maiden drivers’ championship.

And while the man from Frome revelled in the victory celebrations, debate started to rumble about the Japanese driver making his debut for Toyota. Both the new world champion and Williams racer, Kazuki Nakajima, were subjected to his aggressive blocking tactics during the race.

Indeed his compatriot ended up out of the race as he clipped the Toyota’s tyre and lost his front wing, sending him flying off the track at turn four.

This incident was the one which made people think that he was too aggressive and broke the unwritten rule of one move to defend a position rather than weave across the track.

Now, having followed Formula 1 for 15 years I’ve seen plenty of Japanese drivers come and go. Ukyo Katayama, Taki Inoue, Takuma Sato and many others come and go, and more than their fair share of crashes too. So when Kobayashi took out his compatriot you can see why I thought that another fast, but overly aggressive Japanese driver was in F1.

Two weeks later though a calmer, more mature Kobayashi climbed into the Toyota in Abu Dhabi and once again raised eyebrows, but for all the right reasons.

Kobayashi is turning into a real star

He was just as racey, just as aggressive as in Brazil but stopped his dangerous defensive driving as Kimi Raikkonen found out on the opening lap and Jenson Button discovered later on when the two battled it out.

Not only that but his hard yet fair overtaking manoeuvre on Button had heads turning as the rookie powered onto a sixth placed finish in only his second Grand Prix, ahead of veteran team-mate Jarno Trulli.

But then came the news that Toyota were pulling out of F1 and Kobayashi, who everyone expected to be in their team for 2010 was left unemployed

Thankfully, Peter Sauber was back after he bought back the team he sold to BMW, and he knows good talent when he sees it.

As the season has gone on, a string of stunning overtakes and hard, aggressive driving has seen Kobayashi being talked again as one of the most exciting prospects in Formula 1. The cheek in Valencia to overtake Fernando Alonso on the very last lap was a bold move and was fantastic to see, as was his last corner move on the unsuspecting Sebastien Buemi; that it’s not over until the chequered flag approach that may have been missing from F1 in recent years.

Last weekend’s drive in his home race at Suzuka was however perhaps the best of the lot so far and included some stunning manoeuvres at the hairpin. Pick of the bunch was a brave move around the outside of Toro Rosso’s Jaimie Alguersuari despite the young Spaniard’s best efforts to ruin his car on the exit.

All of this though has meant for the first time in my F1 history, there is a Japanese driver who I actually enjoy watching. His race craft is very good, he doesn’t crash and he has a car which manages to last a complete race distance.

Over the years many a Japanese driver has come and gone, with various amounts of success.

First was Ukyo Katayama. The Australian broadcaster Clive James was said Katayama impressed so much in races that he was often allowed to leave them early. It was said in jest but out of 95 F1 races between 1992 and 1997, Katayama retired from 63 of them only scored five points, all in the 1994 season for Tyrrell.

As you can see from this video, you can see why he scored so few points.

However during his time in Formula 1 there was another Japanese driver who was far, far worse.

Taki Inoue, somehow, competed in 18 races and the whole of the 1995 season for Footwork retiring in 13 events. Of those 13 retirements, six were due to spins and collisions; meaning he crashed out of one third of Grand Prix he entered. A record surely.

Despite his atrocious driving and the inability to drive in a straight line, he somehow managed to conjure up a drive for the 1996 season, with Minardi. Thankfully though one of his sponsors pulled out and Giancarlo Fisichella took his place, much to the relief of Minardi’s mechanics no doubt.

And that was it for a few years apart from some unspectacular,  and slow, performances of Shinji Nakano for Prost and Minardi plus Toranosuke Takagi for Tyrrell until 2002 when Takuma Sato turned up, mainly backwards, in the yellow of Jordan.

Admittedly the biggest accident of Sato’s career was not his fault but he earned himself a reputation with unnecessary accidents in Monaco, Italy, Spain, America, Japan, Australia, Malaysia, France, Canada, Bahrain, Belgium…

It’s a shame that by the time he had calmed down as a driver and could pull of moves like the one he did on Alonso in Canada when driving for Super Aguri, he was in a team who were struggling for cash and alas when the team disappeared, so did Sato.

So it’s refreshing to finally see a Japanese driver who is fast, entertaining and above all, skilful. When watching F1 this season I find myself looking forward to the next shot of Kobayashi in anticipation of drama and excitement, something not all drivers can provide on a regular basis.

With Toyota and Honda having pulled out of the sport in the last two years, Kobayashi has found himself as Japan’s sole representative in Formula 1. It’s a role he appears to revel in though and as he goes from strength to strength I sincerely hope he stays for many years to come.

In a sport which is notoriously difficult to overtake in, he’s proved that it can be done and that he is a real talent who can go on to the Japan’s greatest F1 driver, and I think he will.

Image courtesy of bobthemelbournian

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When Sebastian Vettel won the 2008 Italian Grand Prix for Toro Rosso the German media immediately christened him ‘baby Schumi’, hailing him as the replacement for the great Michael Schumacher.

It’s been a rapid ascent for the 23-year-old following that win at Monza but his sudden leap from the back of midfield to the podium and the switch to title contenders Red Bull may have come too soon. Eleven poles and six victories for Red Bull prove that he has the speed to make him a successful F1 driver.

But despite fighting for two championships, does he have the temperament to claim the ultimate prize?

Despite lying third in this year’s championship, Vettel is 31 points behind leader Hamilton after a series of costly errors, which also dented last year’s title bid. Last weekend’s smash into the side of Jenson Button’s McLaren at Spa was the latest mistake of a driver who is perhaps a little too raw to win the championship and showed he still is unable to master overtaking.

Out of control: Vettel veers into Button's McLaren at Spa

Five of his seven wins have come from pole position with last year’s win in Abu Dhabi (when pole sitter Lewis Hamilton retired) and a start line jump on Mark Webber in Malaysia in April being the exceptions. Vettel, unlike his rivals, has never had to fight his way from anywhere further back than third on the grid to take the top step.

Adrian Newey has arguably designed F1’s fastest car in the last two seasons and this outright speed has constantly put Vettel at the front of the grid where he’s not required to overtake as much.

But despite claiming so many poles, he’s often been unable to win the following day’s race.

Vettel also has a terrible pole to win conversion in 2010. Out of his seven P1 grid starts, he’s only gone on to win one race, at Valencia in June. And after some of his mistakes during the past two seasons it is easy to see why the man from Heppenheim has been unable to win so many races.

A collision with Robert Kubica three laps from the end of  last year’s Australian Grand Prix cost both driver a podium finish and handed the race to Brawn’s Jenson Button. That was the first of a series of errors which have hindered his championship challenges. A few races later Vettel slid wide into the barriers at Ste Devote as he chased the Brawn’s around Monaco’s streets.

His attempted block on team-mate Mark Webber at the start of this year’s British Grand Prix ended in disaster, as the young German found himself at the back of the grid with a puncture. Despite climbing back up to seventh he had his overtaking skills criticised by compatriot Adrian Sutil.

“I defended my position well against Vettel until the final lap, but then he just seemed to drive into me and I lost the racing line and had to move over – otherwise I don’t think he would have got past me,” said the Force India man.

Vettel must work hard for more moments like this

Vettels most infamous moment came at Istanbul in May where his attempts to overtake Webber for the lead resulted in his retirement and the Australian falling behind both McLarens to finish third.

A few laps later Button and Hamilton showed Red Bull how racing between team mates should be done as they battled firmly but fairly for the lead. The blame for this collision was laid at the feet of the young German by many in Formula 1, except by Vettel and the Red Bull hierarchy.

“I was quicker. I dived down the inside. I had the corner,” he said..

But after he careered into the side of Button six days ago, Vettel had no excuses and has come in for more criticism  and calls to calm down.

“It seems Sebastian is just too impetuous; look at the incident with his own team-mate, look at incidents that put him out of the race,” said Mclaren’s Former Team Principal, Ron Dennis.

“It’s good to push, it’s good to be competitive, but there are so many historical lines in motorsport and the one that fits him more than anything is, ‘to finish first, first you have to finish’.

“If he doesn’t win this year’s World Championship and he’s considering the reasons why, I think he should first consider his own actions.”

This criticism of the young German suggests a consensus amongst those in F1 that he is not yet ready to win the world championship. The pressure of fighting for championships when still relatively inexperienced in Formula 1 seems to be taking its toll on Vettel as a series of mistakes hamper his championship chances for another year.

His latest mistake leaves him 28 points behind Webber with six races still to go. Although he is still within touching distance, if he fails to close the gap on his team mate he could soon find himself playing second fiddle, hardly a situation he wants.

If he fails to win this year’s title, the winter break should present him with an opportunity to calm down, reflect on his driving this year and look at the mistakes he’s made.

Then he may be able to put in a real title challenge.

Photo courtesy of iragazzidiredbull