Kamui Kobayashi – undoubtedly one of the stars and biggest surprises of the final two races of the F1 2009 World Championship campaign – has revealed that he would be interested in joining newcomer Lotus next year, after an anticipated deal with Toyota came to nought when the Japanese manufacturer announced its immediate withdrawal earlier this week.
Kobayashi impressed on his F1 debut in the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos last month, lining up eleventh on the grid and going on to race feistily inside the top six, determinedly fending off the attentions of world champion-in-waiting Jenson Button for lap after lap in São Paulo, and only failing to make the points following a brush with compatriot Kazuki Nakajima in the Williams that necessitated an extra pit-stop for repairs.
Still, the reigning GP2 Asia Series Champion more than made up for that fleeting disappointment with a stunning performance a fortnight later in the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix finale, coping admirably with a heavy single-stop fuel load to rise as high as third from eleventh on the grid, again getting the better of Button in a brief but energetic scrap and going on to beat infinitely more experienced team-mate Jarno Trulli to the chequered flag to score the first points of his top flight career in sixth.
If Toyota Motorsport President John Howett admitted afterwards that he had been unsure about Kobayashi's ultimate potential following a lacklustre main campaign in GP2 this year, the Englishman was forced to acknowledge that on the basis of Brazil and Abu Dhabi, he would find it difficult not to sign the 23-year-old up to a race seat in 2010.
The driver himself had joked that with 'no budget' behind him, he would have little option other than to return to working in his father's sushi restaurant in Japan should he prove unable to secure a drive [see separate story – click here
] – but few thought he would have any great trouble in convincing Toyota to take him on. And then the plug was pulled.
“Obviously, my place at Toyota is lost,” Kobayashi told French media. “I was close to signing a contract for 2010, but there are four new teams and still options. If I could choose a team, I would choose Lotus.”
Toyota has vowed to help both Kobayashi and Williams refugee Nakajima find alternative employment for 2010, whilst the company has 'already discussed and rejected' the possibility of copying fellow car-makers Honda and BMW in selling on its Cologne-based outfit to enable the team to continue to compete at the highest level. The former was taken over by new world champions Brawn GP and the latter was purchased by partner Sauber in tandem with the mysterious Qadbak consortium, which now looks likely to assume what would have been Toyota's place on starting grid next season.
“Maybe these ideas can be re-opened,” Howett told British newspaper The Times
, “but at the moment, it would appear not.”