Kamui Kobayashi has been discussing how his life has changed since he began his first full season in Formula 1 as he looks forward to returning to Japan for his home race.
The 24-year-old was in Tokyo yesterday to be appointed as ‘Sports Tourism Master’ – an honourable international ambassadorial role – by the Japan Tourism Industry.
“Returning to race in Japan as a Formula One driver means a lot to me,” Kobayashi says. “I had a taste of it last year when I stepped in for Timo Glock at Toyota for the Friday practice sessions. This was at short notice, but for this year's race a lot of supporters are going to be there. There has been a “Kamui Kobayashi” fans corner set up between turns two and three. It has more than 2000 seats and has been sold out for quite a while. I managed to buy tickets for friends and I hope they will be having fun.”
Kobayashi made it through to Q3 in Singapore last Saturday but his race day was less impressive. Just moments after colliding with Michael Schumacher in the race, the Sauber driver was forced to retire when he crashed into a barrier, bringing out the second safety car of the evening. The Japanese driver is hoping to have better result in his home race:
“After a good qualifying the outcome of the race in Singapore was, of course, disappointing for me,” Kamui says. “I hope in Suzuka we have reason to be happy on both Saturday and on Sunday. We all think the circuit should suit our car pretty well.”
Despite coming from Japan, Kobayashi does not frequent the country’s race tracks regularly. In fact, his last race was seven years ago. “I didn't do a lot of racing in Japan and the last race was long ago,” he reveals. “It was in 2003 with Formula Toyota on the short track in Suzuka, not on the Grand Prix circuit. I was 17 years old then.”
Asked to compare racing in Japan and Europe, Kobayashi says “[The difference] is huge and I think this is because Europe has all the history in motor racing. You have plenty of smaller racing series which provide for good driver development. Anyone who has attended a Japanese Formula One Grand Prix knows about the excitement and passion the people have for it. But it is also true it is not easy for Japanese people to follow Formula One because the European races are broadcast live relatively late at night.”
Kobayashi is regarded as one of the more capable F1 drivers to emerge from Japan. Many observers cite homesickness as a common cause for his compatriots’ problems, but Kamui says he has had no such issues. “Of course it was strange when I first came to Europe, actually to Vicenza in Italy, because I didn't even speak English and everything was completely different. But it was also a lot of fun!”
“This seems to be very difficult to understand for Europeans, but for Japanese it is not that unusual to leave your family and go to work elsewhere,” he adds. “Even when I was doing things in Japan I rarely met my family. Most times I went to Tokyo and they still live in Amagasaki, which is close to Osaka and quite far away from Tokyo. I always like to stay somewhere nice, but it doesn't really matter which country it is.”
In the interview Kobayashi also revealed that he has a Yorkshire Terrier called Alfred and that in his youth he wanted to become a comedian but “found I wasn’t talented enough”. He also says that his parents are not interested in motorsport:
“My parents were not at all interested in racing. They still don't own a road car. I bought myself a car twice, but both times my father sold it. He runs a Sushi delivery shop in Amagasaki. Most likely if I hadn't been quick in karting perhaps I would have become a sushi chef. But I hate raw fish.”