Posts Tagged ‘minardi’

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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