One week on from lapping up the adulation of the Japanese Grand Prix crowd after taking third place at Suzuka, Kamui Kobayashi went from hero to zero in less than a lap in Korea - and it could finally have cost the Japanese driver his job.
Already thought to be under threat of losing his seat at Sauber after a lacklustre season, Kobayashi also suffers from not bringing major sponsorship to the Swiss team, but the departure of team-mate Sergio Perez, allied to his sterling efforts at Suzuka a week ago, could have been enough to earn the former Toyota pilot a reprieve. However, a first lap accident in Korea, which eliminated both Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg but left Kobayashi running after a pit-stop for repairs, could be the last straw for his employers.
“This is a race to forget," Kobayashi admitted, "Initially, I had a good start, but then we were four cars side-by-side approaching turn three. I had Nico to the right and both Jenson and Sergio on my left-hand side.
"Someone hit my rear tyre and then it was impossible to control the car, but I had to brake at some point. I didn't manage to avoid the accident, and I feel very sorry for ruining someone else's race. Certainly, this was not my intention. It was just a very difficult moment and I had nowhere to go, but I think it was my mistake.“
Paddock rumour already suggests that there will be an all-new line-up at Sauber in 2013, with current reserve Esteban Gutierrez being promoted to safeguard the Mexican sponsorship attracted by Perez's involvement, and Nico Hulkenberg moving over from Force India to fill Kobayashi's seat. The German brings a modicum of backing from his homeland, and has a superior finishing record to his Japanese rival, even if the machinery at his disposal has not yielded a similar number of points. Naturally, however, neither Sauber or Hulkenberg were willing to comment on the speculation.
While it remains unclear where Kobayashi may wind up next season, it is understood that Bernie Ecclestone is keen to keep the Japanese driver in the field. Jules Bianchi, meanwhile, is tipped to graduate from Force India's reserve seat to partner Paul di Resta in 2013. Should the Frenchman move up, Ferrari would have seen the two senior drivers from its Academy system secure seats for next season with teams running Mercedes engines....
Kobayashi rejoined the race in Korea after a pit-stop for repairs, but was subsequently hit with a drive-thru' penalty and then parked his C31 under advisement from the team.
“After the start, both our cars were damaged," head of track engineering Giampaolo Dall'Ara confirmed, "Sergio made contact with a car and damaged the nose cone, while Kamui's car was damaged at the front and the rear where the punctured tyre destroyed the floor. We were not sure if the car was still safe to drive, therefore we decided to bring him in."