Kamui Kobayashi has made his first public appearance in a Formula 1 Ferrari, during the fifth annual Moscow City Racing event in the Russian capital. It didn’t go quite according to plan. In wet conditions, Kobayashi lost control and crashed, tearing off the front-right corner of the Ferrari F60 he was demonstrating.
Ferrari, surprisingly, did not seem too concerned. They had another car available, and Kobayashi was back in the cockpit just 20 minutes after his crash. It seems that Ferrari is an organisation that understands that motor racing is inherently dangerous and crashes sometimes happen. They had confidence in their driver and showed it by putting him back in an F1 car as quickly as possible.
Kobayashi shrugged off the crash afterwards, saying “The track was very slippery and there was a marked bump at that point, which is why I hit the barrier. A shame, but I am pleased the team let me out again after a few minutes.”
Formerly a Sauber F1 race driver, Kobayashi has been without a drive in Formula One since the end of 2012, when he lost his seat at the Swiss team. Ferrari signed him up for 2013 to compete in the GTE class of the World Endurance Championship. He is currently joint third in the points table after three races.
Kobayashi is still aiming to secure a Formula One drive in the future, aiming to be back on the F1 grid as soon as 2014. But he understands that money could be an obstacle to the resumption of his F1 career. Kobayashi said, “At the moment, there are many teams who prefer to choose their drivers based on how much money they can bring, rather than on their ability on track: I hope this trend will change, because my aim is to be back there as soon as possible and I am working hard to succeed.”
Watch Kobayashi’s crash in Moscow here:
Sauber have signed Mexican driver Estaban Gutiérrez to race alongside Nico Hulkenberg in 2013. Gutiérrez has been Sauber’s test and reserve driver during 2011 and 2012 while he has been competing in GP2, but has now been promoted into a full-time Formula One race seat.
Sauber’s announcement confirms that Kamui Kobayashi is out of a drive for next season. The exciting and often sideways Japanese driver had a promising start to his Formula One career late in 2009 for Toyota and was signed by Sauber from 2010. He impressed during 2010 and 2011 but has had a fairly lacklustre 2012, apart from an emotional first podium at his home race in Japan. Unfortunately for Kobayashi, it is becoming increasingly difficult for drivers to find seats based solely on talent, and he is now seeking sponsorship to assist in finding a drive for next season.
Gutiérrez has already proven his talent, taking the inaugural GP3 title in 2010 and finishing third in GP2 in 2012. He first tested for BMW Sauber in 2009 and has since been run by Sauber at the annual Young Driver Test. The young Mexican is only 21 years old, which raises questions about whether or not he has the necessary experience for Formula One. In the current tough economic climate, he has likely been rushed into an F1 race seat in order to continue Sauber’s sponsorship relationship with Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim, which began when the team signed Sergio Perez who is moving to McLaren from next season.
It was highly likely that Gutiérrez would end up in Formula One anyway. He is certainly quick enough. Whether or not he is ready to race at the top level of motorsport will be revealed by his performance on the track in 2013.
Sebastian Vettel needed a bit of fortune to put him in touch with Fernando Alonso in the championship fight, and he received just that today. Contact between Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen at the start resulted in a puncture for the Ferrari driver that ended his race in a first corner spin. Vettel won the race from pole position, ensuring that he maximised the opportunity to take points off the championship leader.
Vettel’s drive was masterful, reminiscent of 2011 when he was streets ahead of everyone else. He pushed when he wanted to, although he never really needed to, and finished the race 20 seconds clear of Felipe Massa, who stood on the podium for the first time since 2010. Kamui Kobayashi became the first Japanese driver to feature on the podium at his home race since 1990 by finishing third, holding off the advances of Jenson Button in the final stages of the race.
Romain Grosjean covered himself in anything but glory by causing yet another first lap incident. The Frenchman appeared to be distracted by a Sauber on his outside when he should have been braking for turn two, and hit the Red Bull of Mark Webber, causing Webber to spin in the middle of the track and doing some minor damage to both cars. In the aftermath of the incident, Bruno Senna touched the back of Nico Rosberg’s car, causing damage to the nose and front wing of the Williams and putting Rosberg out of the race with a puncture. Grosjean received a 10-second stop-and-go penalty – the harshest penalty available to the stewards short of disqualification. Considering the frequency with which he initiates pile-ups, Grosjean could find himself out of a job fairly soon if he doesn’t clean up his act.
McLaren had a surprisingly uncompetitive day, with Jenson Button unable to make an impression on the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi in the latter stages of the race. Button finished fourth, ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton complained of understeer in his car throughout the weekend, but found some pace late in the race as the balance of the car improved. After having easily the quickest car at the last four races, Mclaren will be disappointed at not even making the podium, although Alonso failing to score will certainly give them some consolation.
Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher had a competitive yet unrewarded drive from 23rd on the grid to finish 11th, missing out on a point only through some skillful defending by Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne in the closing stages of the race. Although Mercedes did not achieve the results they would have wanted from the weekend, they will nonetheless be reassured by the pace of the car in race trim. Schumacher set the sixth fastest lap of the race and was quick throughout the second half of the race. Rosberg’s race lasted only 22 seconds, but he had made a good start and would probably have scored points if not for the first lap drama.
Alonso’s lead in the championship has now been reduced to just four points, with Sebastian Vettel breathing down his neck in the Drivers’ Championship. Considering the form displayed today by Red Bull and the lack of pace from Ferrari in the last few races, Vettel is now the favourite to take this year’s title and thereby become only the third driver in history to win three championships in a row. Of course, with five races remaining anything can still happen, and a single retirement for Vettel would swing the balance firmly back towards Alonso.
Kamui Kobayashi: “I’m really looking forward to this race, and my expectations are quite high. Silverstone is one of my favourite circuits. Our cars were always good in medium and high speed corners, but with the Sauber C31 we have also improved the performance in slow corners, which means we should have no problems with the new part of the track, which was introduced in 2010. Despite the fact I have to cope with a penalty, which will send me five places down the grid, I’m optimistic for this race. I believe we have the potential to achieve something special in England and I hope for a little more luck as well.”
Sergio Pérez: “I really like the Silverstone circuit. I have won there in Formula 3 and in GP2 and also last year my first Formula One race was good. I came seventh and this was actually my best race result in 2011. Back then it was a crazy race in difficult weather conditions with the track drying. I think our car will be good in Silverstone and I want to fight for another podium there. In my view in Silverstone it is even more difficult to overtake than it was in Valencia, therefore qualifying is high priority on the job list. I need a better grid position than recently. I like the fast and fluid corners a lot, so this is a very enjoyable part of the track. The race in Silverstone is a special Grand Prix – because of the fans and the atmosphere and also for me personally. I lived in Oxford for three years and I have quite a few friends in England.”
Giampaolo Dall’Ara, Head of Track Engineering: “The Silverstone circuit is very different from the last two tracks we’ve been racing on. It has some challenging high speed corners and requires a set-up which is optimised with regard to aerodynamics as well as changes of direction. Silverstone has the charm of some of the older tracks with a surface that is not perfect and quite bumpy in some places. It also offers some real challenges for the drivers. The straights are not very long, therefore we can afford to run quite a lot of downforce. The DRS zone is in the same place as last year, in the section that was built a couple of years ago. Its length is quite limited which means overtaking is not so easy. We will be running the soft and the hard tyre compounds, which I expect to suit this track nicely, and also warming-up should not be an issue. An important factor in Silverstone is always the weather, an aspect we need to take into consideration when preparing for the race weekend, and something which we might to need to adapt to during the race. Our Sauber C31 will get an aerodynamic development package, which includes some modifications of the engine cover and the rear of the car. Looking at the layout of this track and the characteristics of our car, I think we can approach this race weekend with a lot of optimism.”
Kamui Kobayashi: “In Valencia it is usually very hot. I personally like that, but it is difficult to say what it means for the car and the tyres. It will be tough, that much is certain. Tyre management will be the key, together with a good race strategy. The street circuit also requires a decent amount of downforce for the car. You are always quite close to the walls, but after our last two races in Monaco and Montreal this is nothing new. Overtaking is not easy but not impossible either. In 2010 it was actually good fun. Valencia as a city is a nice destination by many measure, I would happily choose it for my holidays. By the way, you can also get the best fresh squeezed orange juice there. However, my target is a strong qualifying as well as a strong race.”
Sergio Pérez: “I enjoyed the Montreal result very much and I want more of that. I like the track in Valencia a lot and also the atmosphere during the race weekend, as we are quite close to the fans. I don’t have the best memories of my Formula One debut race in Valencia, as it was last year and a very difficult one for me. I was returning to racing after my heavy shunt in Monaco and, in hindsight, I have to admit I don’t think I was fit enough. I didn’t feel well at all. The Valencia street circuit has quite long straights with hard braking into the corners, and what we have learnt from Montreal will be important for that.”
Giampaolo Dall’Ara, Head of Track Engineering: “Valencia is a street circuit, but not a typical one, because the surface is very smooth, and the kerbs are not very high. In addition, the aerodynamic efficiency is significantly more important than, for example, in Monaco or Singapore, and there are proper run-off areas. Most of the corners are slow, but you cannot ignore the level of top speed. As a result of this layout, braking stability and traction are very important. In Valencia we have to expect high temperatures at this time of the year, so the tarmac can get very hot. Pirelli is supplying us with the medium and the soft compound tyres, which have changed a bit since last year and may need us to look at a slightly different strategy for them. Rear degradation could be an issue. Overtaking is not easy on this track, therefore qualifying is of particular importance. The car is basically unchanged since Montreal, however, we might run a higher level of downforce.”