Look who's backLaurence Edmondson January 22, 2014
Kamui Kobayashi is back in Formula One. This is good news.
It's especially good news for the fans that have sent donations to KAMUI SUPPORT since 2012 to try to secure him a drive. He raised over £1 million, which will go towards Caterham this year, making him the first crowd-sourced pay driver in Formula One. It may seem like madness for fans to contribute towards an F1 star's career given the privileged life drivers lead, but it's not that different to buying over-priced team merchandise year after year or buying a particular brand because it's plastered all over your favourite driver's car. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and with the driver market ruled by money rather than talent, it was a novel idea and it's paid off.
What's more, Kobayashi is good value for money ... in every sense of the phrase. He has a remarkable ability to drive a modern Formula One car at the sort of slip angle a modern Formula One car should not be driven at. At first the slides look wild, but he does it so consistently and with such control that it almost passes as intentional. It may not be the fastest way through a corner, but it is fun to watch and F1 fans like that. The torque produced by this year's new V6 turbos should only add to the excitement, and it will be worth keeping an eye out for his green machine when standing trackside at chicanes and low-speed corners.
He's also among the ballsiest overtakers on the grid. It was a talent that made him stand out pre-2011, when DRS didn't exist and Bridgestone's consistent tyres meant performance between cars rarely fluctuated enough to breeze past an opponent. At his first home grand prix in 2010, he battled from 14th on the grid to seventh, making up five positions into Suzuka's tight hairpin - a corner where overtaking had long been considered taboo. At that point it was clear he was something special, but the increased amounts of "artificial" overtaking in 2011 and 2012 diluted Kobayashi's innate advantage. Nevertheless, you can be sure he won't hold back should he get close enough to the midfield this year to be a part of the action.
Kobayashi's appeal isn't just limited to the track, however. Away from it he is equally bonkers. Although most of it is lost in translation, his Twitter feed offers an insight into his unique perspective on the world, as this tweet from the Bahrain round of the World Endurance Championship hints at...
Nobody here in paddock just 30min before practice session start!! Why? pic.twitter.com/tRI9wecikr— KAMUI KOBAYASHI (@kamui_kobayashi) November 28, 2013
And it's no different talking to him face-to-face. Ahead of the 2011 Belgian Grand Prix, one of the main talking points in the paddock was whether the 185mph Blanchimont could be taken with the DRS open or closed. It was the first time DRS-equipped cars had raced at the circuit and the FIA decided to ban its use through Eau Rouge for safety reasons. Blanchimont was left to the drivers' discretion, but Kobayashi was so unfazed he wagered €10 with journalists that he would keep it open on his first flying lap in Friday practice. Despite offering to provide telemetry as proof, no one took him up on the bet.
It's understandable, therefore, that there is genuine excitement to see another character back on the grid. It's also positive to see a driver who was displaced for commercial reasons finding a way back into the sport by beating rival pay drivers at their own game. Hopefully this year's Caterham will be competitive enough for Kobayashi to prove he deserves to be in Formula One long-term. He's the sort of driver F1 needs.
Laurence Edmondson is deputy editor of ESPNF1