Exclusive Kobayashi Q&A: I want so much more from 2012 08 Feb 2012
In 2011 Saubers Kamui Kobayashi was suddenly propelled into a lead driver role after his team signed rookie Sergio Perez. For Kobayashi, who was himself only in his second Formula One season, it was a big ask especially with mid-season regulation changes and a lacklustre car to contend with. But in spite of the headaches, the Japanese driver relished the opportunity and he hopes to use all the lessons he learnt to excellent effect this season...
Q: Kamui, you had the privilege of debuting the new Sauber C31 and on Tuesday you covered the most laps of all those running. You must be either full of praise or full of despair. Which is it?
Kamui Kobayashi: Yes, it was exciting to take our new challenger out on to the track for the first time. And yes, the car felt very good - so there was no despair. It felt very stable. And of course with a new car you need to get a lot of mileage, as it is most important to gauge its reliability and its true colours. As we had no issue whatsoever yesterday, it was no big deal to run 106 laps. It was a great day.
Q: What are the most significant differences to last years car? The 2011-spec C30 ended last year with a bit of a whimper
KK: Well, last years car wasnt so bad. The car was actually good but during the season - due to the rule changes - we struggled a lot. I still believe that the pure car, the design, at the beginning was really good. We were quite confident that the year would work out well and were caught out by the mid-season changes. Then when everything was ordered back to square one our season was basically ruined for five to six races. We are not one of the big teams that can immediately react to such a situation and develop all over again. In contrast, at this winter test we have to make sure we understand the car fully so that when we go to Melbourne we are ready for a long season and hopefully there wont be any mid-season changes.
Q: Technical director James Key has left the team. Your team mate Sergio Perez has already lamented the loss. Do you feel the same?
KK: Well, when he joined the team we were in a very difficult situation and were struggling a lot. He helped me - and of course the team - a lot, so we were able to have a reasonable second half in 2010 and a good start to the 2011 season. When I heard that he was going to leave, I was a little surprised. Of course we knew way before it was made public but you have to accept that he probably has different targets and he wants to go after them. I have to say he worked really well for our team and - without sounding old-fashioned - I was proud to work with him.
Q: In 2011 you had a rookie for a team mate, despite it being only your second season. Was that tricky?
KK: First of all I was really happy to lead the team in just my second season. But, at the same time, I had to work in so many more areas, which you dont normally do in your second season. It was not just the driving but also I was the prime source of information for the engineers and that wasnt an easy situation. But by now I have a very good idea what the team expects from me. I can be much more precise. So I would say that last year was my rookie season as team leader and this year, with the experience I have collected in 2010, it will be much easier. I will probably approach things this season in a different way to last year. My hope is that we can keep the speed up for the whole season because at the moment we do have quite good speed. I also hope we can stay stable.
Q: You must have expected better results from last year but were you rewarded in terms of learning important lessons too?
KK: Of course. When I look back at last year it was all about regulation changes and you have to get used to that and act accordingly. It looks like we will not face as many changes in 2012 so the ability to be flexible will help me with my driving and communication with the team.
Q: To get anywhere in the constructors standings both drivers have to deliver. Would you say that Perez and you are good team mates?
KK: Well, he is young and I am not too old either, so we speak the same language. And I know he is fast as well, so yes, we should be comfortable together.
Q: You both come from very different parts of the world, which must mean you go about things differently?
KK: Yes, there are differences. The Japanese are considered to be in the mould of the German mentality, with punctuality and working hard key characteristics. Mexico is probably a bit more free spirited! So working together is quite interesting
Q: We have 20 races this season and, for the first time in a few years, in-season testing. It will be quite demanding
KK: It will definitely be a busy year. But we have created a target and to reach this target you have to work up until the very last day. And that is what we will do. So we wont rely on any voodoo or far-eastern spirits - only hard work.
Q: What is your personal target for 2012?
KK: To do better in the drivers standings. I know it is not easy but I want to go to a different level, so I hope that the car is stable.
Q: There are rumours that you will run a new exhaust and back end on Friday. Are the rumours correct and what do you expect from the changes?
KK: Yesterday I ran the standard model and Friday will be a first development step for us. Of course we dont know now if it works, but we all hope it will. If it works as we hope it should improve our lap times. And its always about lap times!
Q: Last year you joined forces with rock band Linkin Park and raised US$19,000 for the victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami by auctioning off a helmet designed by a member of the band. How did the joint project come about?
KK: It was fantastic and very special to do something with such an iconic rock band. It doesnt come your way every day as sportsmen and rock stars dont connect too often. I am very grateful to those guys, and I really enjoyed using the helmet in Brazil. I think it brought me luck.
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