Kamui Kobayashi has expressed his optimism for Sauber's latest development package, having used it to repeat his best-ever F1 finish in last weekend's Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.
The Japanese ace, at times overshadowed by team-mate Sergio Perez in the first four races of the 2012 season, bounced back with a fine fifth place at the Circuit de Catalunya, equalling the high he last achieved in the 2011 Monaco race. His C31 was fitted with the latest upgrade from Hinwil, which had been tested at Mugello a week before the trip to Barcelona, and Kobayashi was enthusiastic about the change it produced.
“The most important thing for us was to have confirmation that our new aero package was working well - [and] it is definitely a step forward," he noted, "I think we have improved in the areas we wanted to. The car is better balanced through the corners now. In terms of stability, I would say it is about the same, but stability always depends a lot on the track conditions.
"I definitely had confidence in the car in Barcelona when overtaking. I also feel, with the update, we can now handle the tyre management better during the race. We had been a bit weak on that side before.”
After being forced to start ninth by an hydraulic problem which struck right at the end of second qualifying - after he had made it through to the pole position shoot-out - Kobayashi was delighted to have finished in the top five, but reckons that the result masked just how good his race performance might have been.
"Traffic in the race makes it more difficult to handle the tyres [and], if you looked at Lewis Hamilton, who was fastest in qualifying, you could also see it wasn't an easy job for him to improve positions in the race traffic after he was forced to start last on the grid," the Sauber driver pointed out, "Overall I am very happy - and proud - of what a great job the guys back in the factory did to further develop the car and, of course, what the crew at the race track did.”
With the very different surroundings of Monaco next on the schedule, Kobayashi could be forgiven for having misgivings about the C31's potential, but he nevertheless expects to see better things from the C31.
“It obviously provides an entirely different challenge than that of the Circuit de Catalunya [as], in Monaco, the car is bouncing on bumps, you have understeer and oversteer when you are driving on the limit and the track doesn't forgive any mistakes," he noted, no doubt remembering his team-mate's sickening meeting with the barriers in qualifying a year ago.
"However, I think our car will be better in Monaco than it was last year because it has improved in slow corners. In 2011, I finished fifth, so the target should be to finish higher up this year. However, even if you are given the best car in Monaco, in the end a lot is down to the driver to get the ultimate tenths of a second out of it.”
Even with Perez having taken second place in Malaysia and former GP2 rival Pastor Maldonado winning in Spain, however, Kobayashi stops short of suggesting that Sauber could add to the list of winning teams this season.
“We have seen five different winners in five races, so you could say almost everything is possible this year," he smiled, "I believe we have a good car and good chances for good results. The final outcome always depends on a lot of factors. But what you have to do for success is to get every small thing perfectly right over the entire weekend - and this is what I'm aiming at.”