Kamui Kobayashi, Toyota’s substitute driver for Timo Glock at this season’s final two events, at Brazil and Abu Dhabi, has impressed many observers with his assertive racing style. He finished ninth and sixth in those races, respectively, and at both events he avoided typical rookie mistakes and showed hismelf to be fearless next to his more experienced rivals. He was particularly game in duels with 2009 world champ Jenson Button – much to Button’s chagrin.
As reported in The Guardian, Toyota boss John Howett said of Kobayashi, “We’re very impressed. What we like is his real fighting spirit. He’s not intimidated by anybody, which is very positive.”
Kobayashi was drafted to replace Timo Glock after the German driver cracked a vertebra in an accident during qualifying at the Japanese Grand Prix. Initially, there was some hesitation to put the young Japanese in Glock’s seat, as Kobayashi has not made much of a mark in GP2 this year. Kobayashi had performed well in GP2 Asia, however, and he is a product of the Toyota driver development program, so in the end, Toyota were willing to take the gamble.
Said John Howett, “We always understood he was very good in terms of racing spirit, as he has shown throughout his career. But because the GP2 pace did not look that competitive, you are hesitant about the risk. So it’s a definite lesson that sometimes we should be braver in our driver choices and not go for a safer, risk-hedged decision.”
One wonders if this “risk-hedged” policy has been behind some of Toyota’s driver choices in the past, including Ralf Schumacher, who by most accounts was over-paid and under-performing, and the current line-up of Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock, both of whom, on the whole, have been less than brilliant.
According to Howett, Kobayshi has perhaps an 80% chance of landing a regular drive for the team in 2010. As he is already part of the Toyota drivers’ program, it’s likely that his salary will make a small dent in Toyota’s budget – which, incidentally, won’t be officially approved until the November 15th Toyota board meeting. Certainly no announcements regarding the 2010 driver line-up will be made prior to that date, but Howett has indicated that they should make their decision public by the end of the month.
Perhaps one should take this information with a grain of salt, however, considering that the BMW team had high expectations for their future in the sport, yet their prospects were unexpectedly reversed following a BMW board meeting earlier this year, in which the directors decided to terminate all involvement in the sport. Apparently, the decision was a complete surprise to Dr. Mario Theissen, the BMW team princicipal. Let’s hope no such surprises await the Toyota team this year.
Image by Camilo S.B., licensed through Creative Commons.