Kamui Kobayashi Q&A: The plan is points at every race 09 Feb 2011
In his first full season of Formula One racing last year, Saubers Kamui Kobayashi outshone two of F1s most experienced drivers, Pedro de la Rosa and Nick Heidfeld, who both paled in comparison to the Japanese upstart. With rookie Sergio Perez joining him for 2011, Kobayashi now steps into a leading role at the team, a challenge the ambitious 24 year-old is relishing, as he explained exclusively to Formula1.com
Q: Kamui, it is probably fair to say that the only reason the Sauber team had to smile last season was you. From your perspective, how was your first full Formula One season?
Kamui Kobayashi: I think 2010 was a good season for me and I had a really good time with the team. Sure, in the beginning it was very tough - almost more than you could bear - but from the midseason until the end it developed pretty well and I hope we have been able to take the momentum into 2011, as I think that everybody would admit that from the British Grand Prix onwards it started to look much better. I am very proud that we all worked really hard together to improve and we actually did.
Q: Out of 19 races, you retired from eight, which must be pretty hard for somebody new in the business. Did it give you sleepless nights, as one bad season has meant the end of a Formula One career for more than one driver?
KK: Well, we had reliability issues at the start of the season and that obviously was a strange situation for the Sauber team. Retiring from six out eight races - that is not the Sauber standard that we all know. It was really bad luck for me. Its not that you start to doubt, but it leaves a bit of a funny feeling.
Q: Pedro de la Rosa is a very experienced test driver and Nick Heidfeld has a long Formula One career under his belt. Were you surprised you had the edge from the beginning?
KK: Ha, the truth is that if you want to succeed in Formula One it has to be that way. The first person you have to outperform is your team mate. But in general you are always fighting against yourself, as the only thing that really matters is your own ability to improve and to get the most out of the growing experience that comes with every race. I was quite happy to have two experienced guys alongside me in my first full F1 season. It helps a lot to have a reference point to look at. One thing that I found remarkable was that through their experience Pedro and Nick could change their driving style very easily - whenever the situation demanded it. When they found that it was possible to drive through a corner much faster, the next lap they were doing it. You can reduce your reaction time to a new situation.
Q: Your 2011 team mate Sergio Perez was runner-up in the 2010 GP2 Series and has a lot of financial backing. Does that make you feel under pressure?
KK: Is he? I had no idea. Is that something that will put me under pressure? Formula One is always about pressure so I dont see this situation as extraordinary. Maybe a little bit, but F1 racing is never a relaxing job so I will be able to handle that.
Q: How do you hope your 2011 season will unfold? You will lead the team in your second season
KK: Yes, maybe, but this team has no number-one or two driver. I have more experience of course, but in the end the most important thing is that we work closely together to bring the team together, as this gets you better performances. Our team is not a big capacity team, so to stick together in all important issues is paramount for us. Sergio is the rookie this year and I understand that he needs time.
Q: Japan used to have many ties to Formula One. This season you seem to be the last man standing in the sport. What happened? Have they lost their passion for competition at the highest level?
KK: So many Japanese Formula One fans ask the same question. Why are Japanese companies not supporting Japanese drivers? The answer is very clear - the Japanese corporate mentality is not willing to spend money in this economic climate. They are simply scared. It is not that they do not have the funds, but managers are scared to spend it because they fear that if one day the company does really badly, someone will pin their F1 commitment to their lapel.
Q: You have tested the new car. How does it feel?
KK: The feeling is okay, but of course the important thing now is do to as much mileage as possible. It was the first time that I did set-up work so it was a very interesting task for me. Last years car had much more downforce and that was much easier to drive, but the car itself seems okay.
Q: So how are you finding the change from Bridgestone to Pirelli tyres?
KK: If I said there is not much difference I would be lying. It is a big change. But I have to say that Pirelli did a good job over the winter. For a more in-depth verdict we will have to wait until the first races.
Q: At the beginning of the season everybody can dream the dream. What is your dream?
KK: It is not a dream - its a target to be consistent. Scoring points at every race possible, from the beginning until the very last race. Last year, if we had been able to score points from the very beginning our position in the constructors championship would have looked a lot better. This is the only goal for 2011.
Q: Sauber are known for their good work with rookies. What helped you last season and what will help Sergio this season?
KK: It is the understanding of what a rookie is and how he functions. A rookie makes mistakes and that is something that a team has to understand. It is not that rookies are treated softly by the team. They are hard on you, but with understanding. Being a rookie is quite a tough phase in a Formula One drivers life and if you feel understood and are taken seriously that is what really helps.
Q: We have all seen the images of you sweating in the gym preparing for this season. Have you raised your fitness level? What is your preferred training regime?
KK: I have not done more than last year to be honest. Our focus was primarily to make a regime for my second year.
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