Kamui Kobayashi insists that he is not being rattled by the pace of rookie team-mate Sergio Perez, despite being out-qualified 8-5 by the Mexican in the 13 races so far this season.
While the Japanese ace redresses the balance in terms of points, leading Perez 27-8, the rookie's pace, especially on a Saturday afternoon, has presented Kobayashi with a very different challenge to 2010, when he was paired as the 'new boy' with veterans Pedro de la Rosa and Nick Heidfeld. However, when asked if he was feeling under any pressure to raise his game, especially with Sauber having failed to score in the last two races, Kobayashi insists that there are reasons for Perez being able to match - and beat - him for pace.
"I think qualifying is an important thing - but it is not everything," he claimed in an interview with the official F1 website, "Sometimes you accept starting from P18 because you know it will give you an advantage in the race, but you always have to judge it very carefully. I would say that, last season, qualifying was much more important, but this year the same importance is not entirely there anymore. Sometimes we focus more on race set-up.
"Of course, people do focus on qualifying - and I have to admit that I had to improve in this area - but, honestly, my main focus is on the race. And the points I've scored prove that I'm right.
"This year is [also] a completely different story to last season because of the tyres. Last year, it was much more difficult to out-pace experienced guys because they could fall back on their Bridgestone experience. This year, we all started on the same level of knowledge with the tyres, so it is easier for a rookie to match lap times. The Pirellis are a kind of 'equaliser' this season."
While there is no doubt that Kobayashi will return with Sauber in 2012, the team having confirmed both the former Toyota protégé and Perez earlier in the season, he insists that he is focused only on producing his best for the rest of the current campaign.
"Of course, thoughts about your own future are important, but it is more important for me that I can show what I can do," he claimed, "At the moment, I do not have big plans about the future, but big plans about the present. I want to show my true colours, as I think doing that is the best ticket for the future.
"2010 was my rookie season. Now I am in my second year, I want to show that I am more experienced and can further eliminate the error rate. I think that, at the end of the day, you have to work well with the team - and with my team mate. I want us all to stand together very closely, as results are very often the end product of good co-operation and good communication. We've probably made some mistakes this season - but if we can go home with a smile, that would be great."
Perez again got the better of Kobayashi in qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, although both drivers exited the session in its second phase and will line up 15th and 17th respectively.
After all three free practice sessions looked quite promising, the timed session on the famous high speed circuit proved to be a tough one for the two Ferrari-engined C30s, and Kobayashi didn't think much more could have been achieved.
“I slightly flat spotted a tyre in Q2 but, even without that happening, I don't believe I could have qualified in a significantly better position," he conceded, "We have been quite far away from Q3 today, but we knew the Monza circuit would be a tough one for us and, in the end, it is tomorrow's race what counts. Of course, it will be very difficult to get into the points from where I will be starting, but chances can still open up, so we will see.”