“He is the first Japanese driver who is in an F1 team without supporting the budget. He is in F1 due to his ability to drive,” Sauber was quoted as saying in a recent interview with Finland's Turun Sanomat newspaper.
Kobayashi's first ever Grand Prix in the series happened in 2009, when he benefited from a sudden illness experienced by Timo Glock and was promoted to race driver for Toyota in his home race at Suzuka. He impressed everyone from the get go with his speed, and eventually scored his first points a couple of events later, at Abu Dhabi.
“Jenson (Button) fought for the championship, but I fought for my life,” Kobayashi recalls about his first practice session in Suzuka. “I felt like a mountaineer, climbing either to the top or falling into a gaping abyss. There were no other options. I got one chance and knew that if I did not use it, my career in F1 could be over just as it began,” added the Japanese driver.
Additionally, he admitted that he doesn't quite fit the profile of the usual Japanese racing driver, who usually comes with plenty of sponsorship money in order to secure an F1 spot. The only supporter of his racing efforts internationally was home carmaker Toyota, who ended its F1 programme last year.
“My family is very far away from anything related to motor sport. My dad has a sushi restaurant and he has never had a car. When I became interested in karting when I was 9, I didn't even know formula one existed,” added the Japanese driver.
Last year, when his dreams of continuing in the series with Toyota were axed by the Japanese manufacturer's decision to withdraw from the sport, he actually told the media that his future probably lies with his family, helping out his father run his sushi restaurant. Luckily for him, Sauber saw something in him and rescued his career. A few weeks back, Kobayashi was confirmed for the 2011 season also.