F1: Japanese drivers

Kamui Kobayashi has done a decent second season for Sauber even if his overtaking brilliance was hidden by the fact that everyone did lots of DRS-led overtaking. He out scored his team mate Sergio Perez 30 points to 14, which was convincing, but had a long slump in the middle of the season, partly due to lack of car performance.

However, one has to wonder how long we will continue with the team. Sauber has a Mexican connection through Perez and already has Esteban Gutierrez in the sidelines. It is safe to say that the team’s funding strategy is focused on Mexico just like Williams is focused on Venezuela (how the world has changed!) so it’s very likely that one of the team’s drivers will be Mexican. On the other hand Ferrari supports Jules Bianchi and Sauber is an obvious place to place the youngster due to the Ferrari customer engine deal. At some point it is therefore possible that Kobayashi will get the boot and it will be interesting to see whether he is offered further opportunities in F1.

He deserves a proper opportunity  Kamui is probably the first Japanese driver to be on a F1 team on merit. The issue historically has been that Japanese drivers were tied up with either Toyota or Honda and their career was dependent on their plans to be in F1 with their own team or supplying engines to other teams.

That is why Takuma Sato ended up at BAR Honda then Super Aguri and now Indycar. Satoru Nakajima also ended up at Lotus and Tyrrell-Honda back in the 80’s and 90’s. His son Kazuki was supported by Toyota and therefore drove for Williams. And so on.  This is a rather strange model as drivers put their career at stake and became dependent on boardroom decisions.

Kobayashi was a Toyota driver and indeed the team allowed him to make his debut before withdrawing from the sport. At least that allowed him to showcase his talent for 2 races and get the Sauber deal.

We need Japanese drivers in F1 and would be a shame to lose Kobayashi. Hopefully he will have a decent 2012 to respond to some of his critics.

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