| SUZUKA, Japan
SUZUKA, Japan Oct 9 Sauber driver Kamui
Kobayashi has gone from race-day spectator in Japan to his
country's rising son of Formula One in the space of a year.
Kobayashi was the Toyota team's reserve at Suzuka last year
behind Italian Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock, making a fleeting
appearance in Friday practice when the latter was laid low with
He went on to replace Germany's Glock, who was hurt in
qualifying for that Japanese race, for the last two rounds and
secured sixth place in the Abu Dhabi finale before Toyota pulled
out of the sport and left him seeking a drive.
"That Saturday (at Suzuka) I couldn't take Timo's car but
this year in Suzuka is different," the 24-year-old told Reuters
after heavy rain washed out practice and qualifying.
Kobayashi has picked up 21 points this season and started
the campaign as the only Japanese driver in Formula One.
He has since been joined by Sakon Yamamoto at struggling
Hispania, a team who have yet to come close to finishing near
"It's my first time back to Japan to race but there's no
pressure. I will just do my race," said Paris-based Kobayashi.
"Taking points constantly is my goal."
Kobayashi, who hates raw fish despite his father running a
sushi delivery shop in Amagasaki, has made rapid progress since
Suzuka last year.
He has scored all but six of Sauber's points this season and
the Swiss-based team recently confirmed him for 2011.
With no Japanese teams, and tyre supplier Bridgestone also
pulling out at the end of the year, Kobayashi is aware of how
important he is to the future of F1 in Japan.
"That's why I promote the sport. I'm not looking for
sponsors as it's still a tough environment," said the youngster
who once dreamed of becoming a comedian but found he was not
On Saturday Kobayashi was presented with a number of
Japanese flags signed by a growing legion of fans in the
Some 3,000 waited in an unrelenting downpour at "Kamui
Kobayashi Corner", a sold-out fan section between turns two and
three at the circuit, for a chance to cheer their countryman.
Yuuki Miyashita said he arrived at 7am after driving two
hours from central Nagano Prefecture.
"I'm very happy as I wanted to see a Japanese in the sport,"
he said. "He's different from Takuma Sato."
Sato, Japan's most successful Formula One driver, has not
raced in the sport since the Super Aguri team folded in 2008.
The exit of Sato, as well as nearly all Japanese corporates
except for the Honda-owned Mobilityland which operates the
Suzuka facility, has left one of the world's great car producing
nations in search of a reason to care about the sport.
Mobilityland managing director Itaru Yamada said Kobayashi
had been a boost for the Japanese fan base.
"His grand prix success has been very helpful in bringing
fans," he said.
At the "Kamui Kobayashi" concession stand, goods ranging
from pins to jackets saw brisk demand even in the unrelenting
Suzuka local Asuka Hino, working at the retail booth, said
Kobayashi's No. 23 hats had been the top sellers, but admitted
her following of the nation's rising son was mostly commercial.
"I have an interest but I'm not a supporter," she said.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez. To query or comment on this story