He is the best hope of a strong home result in next weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix - so much so that he’ll have his own ‘fans’ corner’ in the Suzuka stands- and on Wednesday he was appointed an international ambassador for sports and tourism by the Japanese government. BMW Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi chats about racing on home soil, reflects on life on the road as an F1 driver, and explains why things could have been very different - if only he were funnier…
Q: What does your home race mean to you?
Kamui Kobayashi: Returning to race in Japan as a Formula One driver means a lot to me. 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.
Q: What are your expectations for the race in Suzuka?
KK: After a good qualifying the outcome of the race in Singapore was, of course, disappointing for me. 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.
Q: When was your last race in Japan?
KK: I didn’t do a lot of racing in Japan and the last race was long ago. 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.
Q: What is the difference between racing in Japan and Europe?
KK: It 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.
Q: Have you ever felt home sick?
KK: No. 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!
Q: But didn’t you miss your parents and your younger sister?
KK: 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. 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.
Q: You have got a dog - how does it survive when you are always away?
KK: Yes, I have a dog. Alfred is a Yorkshire terrier and very cute! He stays with a friend in Paris but I go and see him as much as I can.
Q: Did you always dream of becoming a Formula One driver when you were a child?
KK: No, never. I rather wanted to become a comedian - Amagasaki is quite popular for Japanese comedians. But I found I wasn’t talented enough.
Q: Did you have support from your parents to go racing?
KK: 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.