A first lap crash between Jarno Trulli and Adrian Sutil, a fuel hose stuck to Heikki Kovalainen’s McLaren which then sprayed Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari directly behind, and – consequently – a Kimi Raikkonen briefly ON FIRE. Safe to say the 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix was a memorable race; more so because Jenson Button carved a path from 14th to finish 5th, thus securing his first ever world championship crown.
After the race though, you might also remember how Jenson described a young Japanese driver as being “absolutely crazy, very aggressive.” That man was of course, Kamui Kobayashi, who made his Formula One debut racing for Toyota in the place of Timo Glock. Kamui – a complete rookie – had managed to fend off the charging Button for many laps using only racing nous and testes made of carbon fibre.
In the next and final race at Abu Dhabi, he beat Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and team-mate Jarno Trulli to finish sixth. Safe to say he’d arrived in Formula One, and was here to stay. Until of course, Toyota dropped out of F1 at the end of 2009. He managed to secure another three seasons with Sauber, but was overlooked in 2013. Now, he’s really back, and racing with Caterham F1, so TG decided to get the Japanese wild-man on the phone…
Hi Kamui! How are you?
I’m very good, very good thanks.
We’re guessing you weren’t very good at the end of 2012 when dropped by Sauber, though.
It was a very difficult moment and, it was not easy to understand the situation. I still felt my place was in Formula One, and this is what I feel today, and I had to find somewhere to drive. But it’s difficult to say what I was feeling other than the fact I felt really bad about the whole situation.
You raced in GT in your ‘year off’. And had a little accident in a Ferrari F1 car in Russia.
[laughs] Well, it was just so bumpy on the track! That’s all I can say. It was, um, bumpy. I just thought, ‘Oh sh**’. I had nothing to say. I was just smiling like, ‘oh my god, this is actually happening’. I didn’t get told off but Stefano called me and said, ‘hey, what have you done?’
But, even though I enjoyed my time in GT, I really wanted to get back into the top category of driving. That’s F1.
So how did you manage to get back into Formula One?
In 2012 when I lost my seat at Sauber, all my fans asked if I could set up a donation pot, so I said ‘OK, let’s go do that’. I had more than 10,000 people donating money so I could get back into Formula One. I raised more than one million pounds – it’s difficult to say exactly how much but it’s definitely more than one million pounds. I think it’s good for the image of Formula One, because everybody is excited about the sport in Japan. This is why I’m here right now.
And why Caterham?
Well, I look at last year’s [Caterham F1] results and it’s not good, but when I came to this factory just before Christmas, I was actually very impressed with the facility and the guys working here and how seriously they care about Formula One. After that I met with Tony [Fernandes, Caterham boss] and he said, ‘OK, how much you do you want it?’ I told him I don’t need money, I just want to drive – I just want my job. So he understood how serious I was about driving in Formula One.
So I have to say a massive thanks to Tony for this opportunity, I’m very glad to be back in Formula One.
You made your debut in 2009 and became immediately famous for your ‘brave’ overtaking moves.
You know, I do more than just brave overtakes in my job. I’ve spent quite a long time in F1: during my Toyota time for example, I was a test driver for ages, trying to develop the car, and then I moved on as a driver. Sure, the first year was really terrible; we couldn’t finish a race. But the Sauber car in 2012 was really good. So I’d like to think I can help develop the car, not just drive it and overtake. I talked to Tony, and I’m quite confident I can help develop the car this year and can work with the team well.
So what goes through your mind when you pull a huge overtake?
I don’t really think about it too much, it’s just my job. If I feel I can overtake, I overtake! I do it with a bit of risk, yes, but there’s a huge risk in F1 anyway. It might sound strange but when we race we have to fight. How would I describe my driving style? It’s very difficult to say. I think it’s very difficult to say myself. I just do my best, always.
We’re still not sure whether Formula One is going to be really boring or really exciting this year. How will you and Caterham do?
All I know is that we don’t know anything. It’s really difficult to predict, with so many rule changes. That’s all I know.
So what about the double-points-for-the-last-race rule?
Double points at the end of the season? I don’t really care. Actually, I’d be very happy if I win the last race! But otherwise no, I don’t care.