Kamui Kobayashi had hoped that 2011 would allow him to build on a promising rookie season in the top flight but, instead, found a campaign riddled with frustrations.
Although the year started promisingly with solid testing performances, and continued with some decent results early on - including a top five in Monaco - but saw the Sauber team's performance fall away from mid-season, leading to a run of seven races without points before he returned to the top ten in Abu Dhabi and Brazil.
With only rookie Sergio Perez to call on as a comparison, Kobayashi and Sauber found themselves sucked into a midfield battle with the likes of Force India
and Toro Rosso
before eventually seeing off the Italian outfit for seventh overall. Kobayashi himself finished twelfth in the individual standings with 30 of the team's 44 points, but admits that he could - and should - have scored in more than just nine of the season's 19 races.
“We had promising winter testing and a strong start to the season - in the beginning, we had every reason to be happy with our performance," the Japanese ace reflected, "Later, I would say from the British Grand Prix
onwards, which was the ninth out of 19 races, we struggled due to the decisions made about the rules and our own technical development. We didn't follow the direction of the 'off throttle exhaust blown diffuser' any further. Instead, we worked hard on the direction of development we had decided to go in, but we could not make up for the disadvantage that came from not having the same technology as the other teams."
Unsurprisingly, Kobayashi looks back fondly on his Monaco performance, but also included a couple of other races among those to be remembered from a difficult season.
“Definitely, the races in Monaco and in Canada were good," he confirmed, "In Monaco, I qualified 13th, which wasn't very strong but, in the race, we had a good strategy and, in the end, I finished fifth after what was a very difficult weekend for the team. In Canada, we had a very good performance in the wet. When the track dried out I wasn't able to defend second position and eventually finished seventh. A bit more rain would have helped us, but I still regard it as a good race. I can also be happy that I still scored points in the final two races. This was a good achievement under the circumstances.”
Ironically, the Monaco and Montreal races were the two that Perez missed as a result of his accident in qualifying for the former, but Kobayashi admits that, while Monaco was tough for the whole team, the season in general was harder than he had expected.
“It was tough when we knew we were struggling with our general performance due to the direction we had chosen for technical development, and especially the weakness in qualifying was not always easy to cope with,” he explained, before adding that, with GP2 Series runner-up Perez joining him in the line-up, being thrust into the role of team leader in just his second full season of F1 was a big step to take.
"Certainly, it wasn't easy for me," he acknowledged, "I needed to improve a lot in various areas - not only in driving, but also in making decisions with the engineers.