The Suzuka circuit currently playing host to this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix is hoping that Kamui Kobayashi can continue to shine in the top flight as it battles to hold on to its place on the F1 calendar.
Despite being one of the favourite venues amongst the drivers, ranking alongside the likes of Spa-Francorchamps, Suzuka officials have admitted that the circuit is feeling the effect of the global economic downturn, with corporate hospitality and ticket sales both being hit. With new hosts always looking to join the schedule, Bernie Ecclestone has made no secret of the need to cull venues that are not up to scratch, but Suzuka insists that it has no intention of dropping off the calendar.
"It's under discussion, but we would like to continue," Itaru Yamada, motorsports MD of Honda-owned Mobilityland, told Reuters
, "It's been a tough environment for two years - the 'Lehman Shock' has affected fans and teams - but, despite the economic conditions, our ultimate aim is to increase the number of spectators [and] to return to 150,000."
The circuit's current deal with Bernie Ecclestone has one more year to run, and Yamada accepts that Japan's reduced involvement in F1 could be crucial to its future. Although the sport currently has two drivers from the country, only Kobayashi is in a position to show well, and has already been confirmed to remain at Sauber next season. Sakon Yamamoto currently races for backmarker HRT, but is clearly employed more for the sponsorship he can bring to the ailing Spanish squad, and Japan is to lose another interest in the top flight when tyre supplier Bridgestone pulls out at the end of the year. The country has already lost the likes of Takuma Sato, Kazuki Nakajima, Honda, Super Aguri and Toyota, and is banking on the Kobayashi effect to revive interest.
Having starred in two end of season races with Toyota in 2009, the former GP2 Asia champion made a slow start to 2010 as Sauber struggled to find its feet following the end of its partnership with BMW, but has come on strong in the second half of the year, rising to twelfth in the championship with 21 points, despite back-to-back DNFs in Italy and Singapore leading to his home race.
"His grand prix success has been very helpful in bringing fans, and he and Sakon Yamamoto spent their summer holidays promoting the sport in Japan," Yamada said of Kobayashi, "We hope these efforts will bring Japanese companies back."