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.
The G-forces involved in driving an F1 car are far beyond anything an average person will ever experience. Under braking, drivers can be subjected to as much as 5G. Lateral forces in high-speed corners commonly exceed 3G. As a way of translating these numbers, the maximum braking force of a road car is around 1G. So if you’ve been braking as hard as possible on a good surface on a warm day with tyres in good shape and ABS fitted to your car, you might have felt about a fifth (at most) of the braking force of a Formula One car. If you brake as hard as possible in an F1 car, your lungs will be pressed up against your ribs by the G-forces, and the tears will be pulled out of your eyes.
If an average person were to drive a Formula One car – assuming the necessary skill, which is unlikely – the G-forces involved would probably overcome the body’s ability to cope within no more than a few laps. The toll on neck, shoulders, arms, etc. would make turning the steering wheel impossible. The forces involved in accelerating and braking would literally hinder breathing. It doesn’t look physically taxing on TV, but it’s just about the most demanding exercise possible, short of flying a fighter jet or a space-craft.
So Formula One drivers keep fit. And not just reasonably fit. They all spend a good part of each day in the gym, doing exercises that make it possible to withstand enormous G-forces for extended periods of time. Grand prix regulations specify a maximum race time of 2 hours. A practice session is no more than 90 minutes. So you might expect drivers to train to be able to drive for up to 2 hours, which really does sound long enough.
Today, Kamui Kobayashi drove his Sauber C31 for 145 laps of the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain during testing for the 2012 season. Each lap of the track is 4.655km. That’s a total of approximately 675km. If he had driven that far from Barcelona on the road, instead of the race track, he could have ended up in Lausanne, Switzerland. Starting in Cape Town, South Africa, he could have made it to within 100km of the Namibian border. In a Formula One car. A grand prix distance is approximately 305km. Kobayashi did that twice, and another 65km, in one day. The fitness required to do such a thing is almost beyond imagination.
Kobayashi is not the only driver able to cover such distances. Nico Rosberg of Mercedes covered 139 laps today. Pastor Maldonado of Williams drove for 134 laps. Three other drivers were on track for more than 100 laps. At the age of 43, Michael Schumacher drove his Mercedes yesterday for 127 laps. Any one of the 24 drivers contracted to race in 2012 would do the same mileage again tomorrow if required.
It often looks on television like driving an F1 car is easy, boring even. The casual viewer sees speed, glamour, wealth and fame, but often misses the gruelling and constant physical assault a Formula One car unleashes on a racing driver. They may seem like rich playboys who like to mess around on a race track on Sunday afternoons, but F1 drivers are probably the fittest sportsmen on Earth.