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Kamui Kobayashi burst onto the Formula One scene in 2009 as a last-minute replacement driver for the injured Timo Glock at the Japanese Grand Prix. While he only competed in two races that year for Toyota, Kobayashi immediately made an impression with his aggressive overtaking style and ability to challenge more experienced drivers.

Early Racing Career

Kamui Kobayashi began karting at the age of nine, competing for seven seasons and winning several championships in Japan. In 2004, he joined Toyota’s Driver Academy and started his single-seater career racing in Formula Renault championships across Europe and Asia. The following year, Kobayashi won both the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 and Italian Formula Renault titles convincingly, with six wins in each series.

In 2006, Kobayashi graduated to the Formula 3 Euro Series with the renowned ASM team. Driving alongside future F1 talents like Paul di Resta, Giedo van der Garde, and Sebastian Vettel, Kobayashi finished eighth in the points and won the rookie championship in his debut season. He continued in Euro F3 for 2007, taking his first victory at Magny-Cours and ending the year fourth overall with three podium finishes.

GP2 and Becoming Toyota Test Driver

With support from Toyota, Kobayashi joined the GP2 Series in 2008 with the DAMS team. He took his first victory in only the second race of the season at Circuit de Catalunya. However, that proved to be his sole podium result of the year, as inconsistency left him 16th in the championship.

The following GP2 Asia campaign was much more successful for Kobayashi as he took the title ahead of future F1 drivers Vitaly Petrov and Romain Grosjean. He dovetailed that achievement with his duties as Toyota’s test and reserve driver in Formula One for the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

Kamui Kobayashi’s Formula One Debut with Toyota

Japanese Grand Prix

Kobayashi got his first taste of F1 action when he substituted for the injured Timo Glock in free practice at the 2009 Japanese Grand Prix. With Glock still recovering, Kobayashi was in contention to make his Grand Prix debut. However, Toyota were ultimately not permitted to race him, and Glock returned to claim pole position and finish second.

Brazilian Grand Prix

Glock’s injuries meant Kobayashi finally got his Formula One race opportunity at the 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix. The Japanese driver impressed immediately by holding off Jenson Button’s championship challenge for several laps, allowing teammate Jarno Trulli to pull away in front. Kobayashi brought his Toyota home in ninth place, promoted to sixth after Heikki Kovalainen’s penalty.

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

With Glock still sidelined, Kobayashi competed in his second Grand Prix at the inaugural Abu Dhabi race. He qualified an excellent 12th and raced well to take the chequered flag in sixth position to score three more World Championship points.

Those eye-catching performances in his only two races for Toyota put Kobayashi’s name firmly on the map. They showcased the aggression, race craft and maturity needed to compete in Formula One, sparking interest from rival teams for 2010.

Kamui Kobayashi’s Sauber COntract

With Toyota withdrawing from Formula One, Kobayashi faced an uncertain future after Abu Dhabi. However, he was soon signed by the returning Sauber F1 Team to partner former test driver Pedro de la Rosa in 2010. It was a well-deserved opportunity for the Japanese racer to demonstrate his talents across a full Grand Prix campaign.

Challenging First Half of 2010 Season

The start of Kobayashi’s 2010 season proved difficult, marred by mechanical issues and rookie errors which led to several early retirements. But he showcased impressive pace and race craft during that period too, running in podium contention in Valencia and almost holding off Jenson Button in Australia.

The second half of 2010 demonstrated Kobayashi’s resilience and consistency. Points finishes in five of the final nine races – including a career-best seventh at Suzuka – helped him beat teammate de la Rosa and winding up a creditable 12th overall in the standings.

Building Momentum in 2011 & 2012

Kobayashi remained at Sauber alongside rookie sensation Sergio Perez for 2011 and 2012. He scored points in over half the races across those two seasons, establishing himself as a firm fan favorite. Aggressive overtakes – like his pass around Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari at Suzuka – became Kobayashi’s trademark.

Some of his finest Formula One performances came during that period too. A stunning drive from 13th to 2nd in the wet 2011 Canadian GP was a real highlight, while a superb fifth place finish at the 2012 Monaco Grand Prix matched Sauber’s best-ever result at the Principality.

Emotional First F1 Podium at 2012 Japanese Grand Prix

The pinnacle of Kobayashi’s Formula One career came on September 30, 2012 when he finished third at his home race – the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.

In overcast conditions, Kobayashi qualified a superb fifth behind the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber who shared the front row. Critically, he lined up one place ahead of McLaren title contender Jenson Button.

Masterful Race Performance

When the lights went out, Kobayashi made a clean getaway. Fernando Alonso soon passed him to move up to fourth after starting seventh, but the Sauber driver remained calm and focused.

While pacesetters Vettel and Webber rapidly pulled away out front, Kobayashi set about holding station ahead of Button’s faster McLaren, knowing track position would be key. The experienced British driver piled on the pressure, but Kobayashi did not put a wheel wrong over the next 40 laps.

Mid-race pit stops by the leaders offered a brief opportunity for Kobayashi to run third and tantalize his home support, before emerging from the pits still crucially ahead of Button. The Sauber’s straight line speed on Suzuka’s long blast down to the famous 130R helped Kobayashi stay just out of Button’s clutches through several DRS zones.

As the race entered its final third, Button and McLaren gambled on stopping early and attempting to chase Kobayashi down on fresh tires. But the Sauber driver dug deep, focusing purely on being as fast and tidy as possible to maintain his advantage. Jenson simply ran out of time to find a way past before the checkered flag flew.

Emotional Maiden Podium Ceremony

The crowd erupted with joy when Kobayashi crossed the finish line in third place to claim his first Formula One podium. The emotional scenes as he stepped out of his car to celebrate epitomized what an important result this was – not only for Kamui but also for Japanese motorsport fans.

An elated Kobayashi savored every moment standing on the Suzuka podium alongside race winner Vettel and runner-up Massa in front of his adoring home support. He proudly hoisted the Japanese flag in celebration with tears of happiness and relief at achieving this lifelong ambition streaming down his face.

It remains one of the most iconic podium moments of recent F1 history and demonstrated the enormous support that Kobayashi commands in Japan for representing his nation so proudly on the global stage.

Life After Formula One

Despite his impressive three-year spell with Sauber, Kobayashi found himself without a race seat for the 2013 season. He returned to Formula One the following year, competing for minnows Caterham in 2014 but was unable to score any points in their uncompetitive car.

Since exiting F1, Kobayashi has rebuilt his career in sports car racing, competing successfully first in Super Formula then later for Toyota’s dominant LMP1 squad in the World Endurance Championship. He even added to his impressive resume by winning the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2021 alongside Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez.

Now into his mid-30s, Kobayashi remains a factory Toyota driver balancing his racing commitments with a management role overseeing the development of young talent behind the scenes.

While his F1 career was relatively short, Kobayashi earned widespread popularity and left behind some special memories with his never-say-die attitude. That emotional Suzuka podium in 2012 capped a journey which inspired a nation and introduced Japanese motorsport fans to one of their new heroes.

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