Waiting in the wings - Kamui Kobayashis Toyota aspirations 07 Oct 2008
Toyotas motorsport division has been based in Germany since 1978, but its links to the companys Japanese homeland remain as strong as ever, making this weekends Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway a very special event.
Boasting over 30 nationalities amongst 650 or so staff, Toyota is one of the most international of the 10 Formula One teams. Of course, they have more than their fair share of Japanese workers in their ranks - most notably third driver Kamui Kobayashi.
Kobayashi, from Hyogo Prefecture, has won races in both the GP2 Asia and GP2 Series this season; his first in the category since stepping up from the Formula Three Euroseries. And if Formula One racing's unofficial feeder category was not demanding enough, the 22 year-old has also contributed to Toyotas strong form this year through his testing work.
His path to Formula One has been plotted by the Toyota Young Drivers Programme (TDP) for several years. The TDP scheme is designed to produce the best possible racing drivers (of any nationality) for Toyota, but the fact Kobayashi is Japanese is a welcome bonus.
"It's our dream for Toyota to win the championship with a Japanese driver in a Toyota car, and we now have Kamui Kobayashi as our test driver," explains chairman and team principal Tadashi Yamashina. "The team is right behind him and hoping that he can become a top driver. At the same time, I will definitely not be giving him preferential treatment and letting him drive our car just because he's Japanese. I've told him he'll have to work hard and get there on merit!"
And Kobayashi certainly is working hard; already this year he has competed in 30 GP2 races and tested for 11 days for Toyota. "I've dreamed of being in Formula One ever since I was a small boy," he says. "I passed the TDP audition, as they call it, when I was 14, and have been committed to Toyota ever since.
"I fully realise how lucky I am to work in such an environment. It doesn't really put pressure on me, but I put continual pressure on myself and I don't forget that I've been in a more fortunate position than others in getting this far.
"Now that I'm close to racing in Formula One and I'm trying to break through, I've realised what an incredible achievement it would be if I ever made it into F1, when there are only 20 drivers in the world competing."
His efforts with Toyota, not to mention his rapid development, have certainly won him many admirers.
Executive Vice President Yoshiaki Kinoshita says: "He is amazingly bright. What's particularly outstanding about him is his opening lap. On the first lap after the race starts, he'll overtake three cars in dry conditions and something like seven to 10 in the wet! I've never seen a driver like that before."
Technical coordination director Chassis Noritoshi Arai concurs: "In terms of his skill and judgement as a driver, he's made great improvements. If he can hang in there and produce good results in races, I'll have nothing to complain about."
So how long will Kobayashi have to hang in there for an F1 race opportunity? With both Toyota and (Toyota-powered) Williams having confirmed their 2009 line-ups, it could be a while. Kobayashi, however, wont be perturbed - long-term planning has always been something the Japanese excel at.