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Kamui Kobayashi Q&A: It's great to be back

31 Jan 2014

After being dropped by Sauber at the end of 2012, fan favourite Kamui Kobayashi spent a year away racing sportscars with Ferrari. Now, thanks in no small part to the financial generosity of his loyal supporters, he’s back on the grid with Caterham. Of course, the 2014 rule changes mean this year’s cars are a world apart from the F1 machines he drove last time out. So what’s Kobayashi’s verdict after the first pre-season test? We caught up with Japanese driver in Jerez to find out…

Q: Kamui, how is it to be back?

Kamui Kobayashi: It’s obviously really good. My plan was always to return to F1 and I’m so pleased I’m back, pleased for me, my fans and everyone who loves F1. I’m also really pleased it’s with Caterham. There’s a lot of differences between them and my previous teams, but they want to succeed so much, they’re like me in that they will fight, and I saw that the very first time I went to the factory.

Q: Can you tell us how it all came about?

KK: It started with a few conversations with the team back at the end of 2013, and then I went to Leafield and met (team principal) Cyril (Abiteboul) and a few of the guys working in the simulator. I also saw a few of the ex-Toyota guys I’d worked with so there were quite a lot of people I knew and that added to the good feeling I had from my visit there. Then I met (Caterham boss) Tony (Fernandes) and we very quickly found we share the same spirit. He’s a guy with big dreams and he never stops working to make them come true - he saw that I was happy to drive for the team for free, and could bring the money my amazing fans had donated to KAMUI SUPPORT, and it went from there very quickly.

Q: One year away from F1 competition: what will that mean in terms of performance? How long do you, and the team give you to get back into racing mode?

KK: Really not long at all. I was still racing last year, not in F1, but I was training hard so I am physically and mentally as ready as I can be to come back to F1. There’s also the new rules this year, so everyone’s having to adapt. Maybe it’s even going to be a little easier for me, as I don’t have to switch from a car I was driving a couple of months ago to these brand new cars - whatever, I’m ready.

Q: Did you train throughout 2013 purely on the hope of a comeback? For much of the time it didn’t look as though it could happen…

KK: Yes, as I say, I was still racing so my fitness levels were high - so I’m ready.

Q: Caterham are putting a lot of faith in you and must very much believe in you: they were last in the standings last season and desperately need at least one good result - and that is what they hope you will deliver. Are you aware of that?

KK: Of course. I know exactly what I’m going into, and, among many other good qualities, the team is very honest. They’ve been clear with me about where we’re starting from and I want to help them move on. There’s an important point here as well - they’re not the same team they were when I raced in 2012. They have a good facility and have spent a lot of money on what they need to have in order to compete, so I think they can deliver.

Q: You are teamed up with a rookie again. After Sergio Perez at Sauber, this time it's Marcus Ericsson. How do you plan to play your part as the ‘top dog’ this time?

KK: I’ll help however I can, but I think Marcus is ready for what’s ahead. Yes, I can help lead the team with my experience and what I know, but we are a team and we’ll all help each other.

Q: You are jumping into a very different F1 racing to the one you left in 2012. Is it better or worse?

KK: It’s different, for sure, but it’s still F1 so it’s still where I want to be! Really though, it’s too early to tell too much about the cars and how different they are. We haven’t had a chance to really push yet, but when we do I think it’ll be good - all drivers like power, and, even with the problems Renault have had in Spain, there will be power to come!

Q: How does your Caterham feel?

KK: I honestly can’t tell you too much because 54 laps on a wet and damp track isn’t enough to say. But I can tell you that the rear of the car feels good, there’s quite a bit of grip there, and that’s a good sign. Other than that, it’s too early to say. Ask me again after Bahrain.

Q: You have chosen a unique way to finance your 2013 drive - crowd funding in effect. Can you tell us about that experience? Could this be a model for young drivers trying to break into F1 racing?

KK: I’m so proud of my fans, and really pleased I can put my KAMUI SUPPORT logo on my race car - it’s on the headrest. I was really so overwhelmed by the amount of love and support I had, and being able to repay that by coming back to F1 is a great feeling. I’ve had so many good messages from people about coming back, and I really can’t wait to get to Suzuka and see stands full of green - it’s going to be amazing! Can it be a model for other drivers? Maybe. It worked for me, so why not?