Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sayonara Kobayashi?

Kamui Kobayashi had a blazing start to his F1 career during 2009 Brazilian GP and he not only finished in his debut race but also went wheel-to-wheel with the eventual 2009 title winner Jenson Button and managed to hold him of for a long enough time. In his next race in the inaugural Abu Dhabi GP, Kobayashi scored his maiden F1 points by finishing 6th in the race.

Though Kobayashi did not have a stellar F3 or a GP2 series, he took the F1 world by storm after his first 2 races but unfortunately for him Toyota withdrew from the Championship and for a short time, his career was more or less over but Sauber took a punt and placed him in his car for the 2010 season. 2010 was a bad year for Sauber as BMW had pulled out from the F1 program and the team till the last minute did not have an entry. Nevertheless Kobayashi in his first full F1 season outpaced and outclassed his vastly experienced teammate de la Rosa.

There were talks of bigger things for Kobayashi but as of now, he is not even sure of a race seat for the 2013 season. There was a time in F1 when drivers like Kobayashi could easily walk into any mid-field team but nowadays all drivers for these teams has to have some level of budgets. Kobayashi is easily one of the best drivers from Japan and still due to the severity of the economic situation, almost all Japanese companies have pulled out of F1 and now he has no backers at all.

For the last 2 races his teammate Perez has proved that he is more than capable and this season Perez with 3 podiums is on his way to McLaren for 2013 while Kobayashi is not sure of his future. Kobayashi is a very good driver but as seen from the last race he is capable of making some basic mistakes as well. Maybe if he is backed by a big organization those mistakes can be forgotten but he has no funding so whatever he does on the track is taken into account.

Sauber benefitted a lot from the Perez plan as not only Perez was pretty good as a driver but also bright in big money for the team. Now that he has left Carlos Slim is still backing Sauber for 2013 and the team maybe force to promote Esteban Gutiérrez their reserve driver to the race seat. The same Esteban Gutiérrez was not promoted when Perez was injure during the 2011 Canadian GP and instead de la Rosa drove the car.

Gutiérrez comes with decent racing credentials as he is the first ever GP3 Champion and despite spending 2 seasons with the ART team which is one of the best teams in GP2, his best result has been 3rd place during the 2012 season. He did manage to win 3 races during the year but James Calado his rookie teammate was not too far off and he did manage to outperform Gutiérrez several times during the year. Gutiérrez is clearly not ready for F1 and he needs one more season in GP2 or even Formula Renault World Series. We have seen the effects of hot-headed rookies creating chaos in F1 and we just do not need one more person.

There was a time when even the legendary Schumacher was associated with the Sauber seat but now ever since he has announced his retirement from the sport, Force India driver Nico Hülkenberg is the favourite to land a drive. Hulk has always shown that he has enough credentials as his pre-F1 career was pretty phenomenal with him being the Champion in A1GP, F3 Euro Series and GP2. Even his debut season in the Williams was not bad by any standards as by the end of the season he managed to get pole and also match his vastly experienced teammate Barrichello for pace.

This season Hulk despite being out of F1 for a year has managed to be on pace with di Resta and for the last few races have actually outperformed the Scot another highly rated youngster. Hulk will bring in more consistency to the team and if Sauber can maintain the current season level of performance, then 2013 will also be a good season for the team. But having 2 new drivers for the team may not be too productive after all especially if the rookie is still not ready for F1. Williams this year despite having a very good car has failed to score big points as they have 2 inconsistent pay drivers.

Sauber has traditionally given youngsters a chance and despite the economic situation the team may never go with 2 pay drivers. Kobayashi scored a podium at his home race in Japan this season but that may not be enough to get him a drive as so far throughout the year, Perez in only his 2nd season has outperformed him and now he will be off to McLaren.

There are others too who are gunning for Kobayashi’s seat and these includes Jaime Alguersuari, Sébastien Buemi & Heikki Kovalainen. All are in the same category as Kobayashi as drivers and they could also additionally bring in some budgets for the team. If only Honda or Toyota was present in F1 today, Kobayashi could have been the big star but unfortunately they are not there and for Kobayashi if Sauber fails to give him a contract for 2013 then his F1 career is more or less over.

It is Sayonara for Kobayashi as the other mid-field teams like Williams & Force India needs someone who can bring in the money as well while it makes no sense for his to go to a backmarker. Tough times ahead for Kobayashi and we all can just hope that this will not be the last season we see of this driver.