The season of goodwill and peace among men has begun. Readers of Autosport magazine have named Japanese Grand Prix driver Kamui Kobayashi ‘Rookie of the Year’. Well now, there’s a nice surprise for fans of feisty racing drivers.
But should we be surprised? No, not really. He’s a cool guy; he speaks his mind and drives accordingly. Flick through the overtaking moves of 2010 and a white, barely-sponsored car with a Ferrari engine features strongly.
It has been said that Japanese racers would not make footballers because they can’t take corners. Yes, they have shown flashes of brilliance, but never consistently. But because they are brave they are flat out where others fear to tread, and this is exciting – as Kobayashi showed at the Spoon corner on many occasions during this year’s Japanese Grand Prix. Suzuka is not a place for the faint-hearted and Kamui was on fine form, staking his claim to be the first truly successful Japanese Formula 1 contender. Many have tried – we know who they are – and some thought this honour would go to Takuma Sato, who was also brave and feisty in a mid-grid car.
What is surprising is Kobayashi’s honesty and humour in a world that appears not to encourage such traits. How about this in a recent missive from the Sauber headquarters in Hinwil? Asked about his apparent ability to overtake other cars during a race, he said: “Because I am Japanese I have small eyes, so I cannot see the other guys. It was an interesting race at Suzuka, very nice for me, and for the Japanese fans. If I feel I can overtake, then I just do it, there is no secret.” I’ve never met Kobayashi, but I’d like to.
Rookie of the Year then, and a winter to work on his game. But first he’s off to Bali for a couple of weeks in the sun. Methinks this guy has what is known these days as a ‘work/life balance’. His ultimate wish, had he a magic lamp, is also interesting.
“In Japanese Mangas they have a ‘where do you want to go to door’,” he says, “and when you go through this door you are where you want to be. I’d like to find that.” So, all he has to do is find the door to, say, McLaren or Ferrari and through he goes. In his dreams. Would he be as quick as a Hamilton or an Alonso? I have no idea, but his way of racing has certainly won him a great many fans.
You will remember that people asked the same question of drivers like Rosberg, Mansell and Webber. Given a great car, would they get the job done? In modern times, more so than ever before, a keen intelligence is vital, an ability to do many things at once while travelling at high speeds.
This is all part of the excitement, the intrigue of sport. And it is this continuing curiosity that carries us from season to season. You never know precisely what will happen, and 2011 looks like being as thrilling as ever. Winter testing won’t provide the answers; the drama will unfold in its own time. And even then, there may be an own-goal in the final minute of extra time. Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber will be mindful of this. Maybe M Schumacher will be back with a dominant car. Now that would be interesting…