Will Japan’s waning interest kill Kobayashi’s dream?

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If you watched the Japanese Grand Prix this past weekend, you saw a bit of an exhibition from local hero Kamui Kobayashi. The aggressive driving style that delighted F1 fans last year was back and in full force. The Japanese driver pulled off some impressive passing moves and was picking off foes like a seasoned veteran. Many have commented on his bravery and can-do attitude and this weekend proved that Kamui may just be the “real thing” when it comes to successful and talented Japanese drivers.

All the accolades are well placed and Kobayashi has a ride for 2011 with Sauber but how long will that last with Telmex CEO Carlos Slim’s money and two Mexican drivers squarely planted at the team? Speed TV’s Will Buxton had a very real and fair look at the waning market that is Japan in the sport of F1. I thought it was well reasoned and spoke to the culminating details that, when combined, show a country falling away from the sport.

No Honda, Toyota, Fuji circuit or Fuji TV host broadcast as has always been the norm. Kobayashi was groomed by Toyota’s racing program and got his shot in the seat last year subbing for injured Timo Glock. He made a name for himself and is truly sitting on the grid on merit alone as the Japanese interest in F1 has tarnished over the last 18 months.

I was reading Mr. Noble’s article regarding the hopes of Peter Sauber with regards to this issue. Sauber is suggesting that maybe Kobayashi’s drive Sunday could renew some interest in sponsorship for the driver and team and while I tend to hope with him, I also understand what that ultimately means. Mr. Kobayashi would do well to find some sponsors from Japan to help maintain his career past 2011.

As Speed’s Buxton pointed out, the Japanese Grand Prix could be at risk should other venues come online. The attendance is down, the manufacturers have gone and the two remaining Japanese drivers have little backing from home. It’s a sad situation that faces the reality of F1 unabated. Having watched numerous Japanese drivers try to enter F1 on the coattails of a Japanese manufacturer and fail, we finally have a driver that has the talent and now no vehicle in which to support him.

If Kobayashi’s career falters it will be the case of horrible timing because I think the young man has what it takes to be a very good driver in F1. He shows several signs of bravery, pace and control that Nakajima, Sato and Yamamoto do not. It truly is a shame if it doesn’t happen for Kobayashi because this is the one driver the land of the rising sun should be getting behind.


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