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(L to R): Kamui Kobayashi (JPN) Sauber (3rd); Jean Alesi (FRA); Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari (2nd). Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Race, Suzuka, Japan, Sunday 7 October 2012.

Japan 2012: Kobayashi’s Brilliant Drive to a Podium at Home

Formula One is heading back to Japan

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Back in 2012, Kamui Kobayashi took a third-place podium at his home grand prix in Japan. 

Kamui Kobayashi (JPN) Sauber C31 celebrates in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Race, Suzuka, Japan, Sunday 7 October 2012.
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This weekend Formula One returns to Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix after two years. Formula One is an international sport and this year there is one driver who will be racing at home, Yuki Tsunoda.

But one home race at Suzuka that stands out is from 2012. The Japanese Grand Prix that year was won by Sebastian Vettel, but Kamui Kobayashi scored a podium in his home country.

Let’s take a look at Kobayashi’s podium at home.

Kobayashi’s F1 career

Kobayashi made his F1 debut in 2009 in Brazil. From the get-go, he showed remarkable talent as he out-qualified the then championship leader Jenson Button in torrential rain in a Toyota, which was fighting in the midfield.

He signed for Sauber ahead of the 2010 season to replace the Renault-bound Robert Kubica. Whilst at Sauber, his teammates included Nick Heidfeld, Pedro de la Rosa and Sergio Perez, who recently won the Singapore Grand Prix.

Perez often outperformed him and was, generally speaking, the better driver of the two during their time at Sauber. However, Perez said in an interview on Beyond the Grid that one of the best aspects of his game now, which is his ability to save his tyres, came from Kobayashi.

Despite finishing behind Perez consistently, Kobayashi was seen as one of the most entertaining drivers on the grid. His aggressive driving style constantly made him one to watch. One of these performances was at home in Japan in 2012.

2012 Japanese Grand Prix

During Qualifying, Kobayashi put his car in fourth, placing behind Button, Mark Webber and Vettel. However, Button took a grid penalty, so Kobayashi was promoted to third.

Unfortunately for Webber, he got hit by Romain Grosjean, who was driving for Lotus, due to him defending against Perez. Grosjean’s teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, also then hit Fernando Alonso, resulting in the Spaniard having a puncture. More chaos ensued when Bruno Senna attempted to avoid the drama, but collided with Nico Rosberg, taking the German out of the race.

The Safety Car was brought out due to the opening-lap mayhem. Vettel pulled away from Kobayashi, but Kobayashi stood his ground in second. Sauber then had a strategy hiccup as they tried an undercut to keep ahead of Felipe Massa, who was in third after making it through the opening lap.

Unfortunately, the undercut didn’t work. Both Kobayashi and Button, who had already pitted, got stuck in traffic and lost out to Massa.

Vettel dominated the race and won ahead of Massa, who finished in second place for the first time since 2010, showing how he wasn’t the same after his near-fatal accident in Hungary a year prior. Kobayashi held on in an inferior car to Button and finished third in what was an incredible day for Japan.

Kobayashi received massive applause from the grandstands due to a 22 year wait for another Japanese home podium. Previously, Aguri Suzuki finished third at Suzuka in 1990 and Takuma Sato took a podium but it was at Indianapolis.

Kobayashi leaves Formula One

By the end of the season, many driver transfers occurred, which started with Michael Schumacher’s second retirement from F1. Lewis Hamilton moved to Mercedes to replace Schumacher, with Perez replacing Hamilton at McLaren. Nico Hulkenberg took Perez’s seat at Sauber, meaning Adrian Sutil returned to Force India.

But where was Kobayashi in all of this? Unfortunately, Kobayashi lost his seat to Esteban Gutierrez due to the Mexican having more sponsors and so Kobayashi was on the sidelines for the 2013 season. However, he did return to F1 with the dying Caterham team but didn’t score a single point that season.

He later moved to endurance racing, winning the World Endurance Championship (WEC) in 2019-20 and both Le Mans and WEC in 2021. All of these were with Toyota, who were the team he drove for when making his F1 debut. He has become one of the most successful endurance racing drivers in recent history, winning twelve races for Toyota.

2022 Japanese Grand Prix

Yuki Tsunoda, who is in his second season of Formula One, will race in front of his home crowd this weekend. He’s currently on 11 points in the drivers’ standings in 17th.

Can AlphaTauri’s Tsunoda repeat Kobayashi’s success in Japan in his first home grand prix?

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