Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn has conceded that it was difficult taking the decision to drop Kamui Kobayashi in favour of Esteban Gutierrez for the 2013 F1 season.
Despite being told as recently as last week that he was under no pressure to bring sponsorship to the team, it is widely believed that the Japanese driver was passed over in favour of the Mexican backing, particularly the continued relationship with Telmex, that Gutierrez's signing could secure. With few other seats available - or available to drivers without significant backing - for 2013, this weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix could be Kobayashi's last as an F1 driver.
Force India, Caterham, Marussia and Williams are among the teams with unfilled vacancies, but those seats are likely to be offered to the likes of Bruno Senna, Giedo van der Garde, Max Chilton and Valtteri Bottas before Kobayashi.
“I would very much like to say a few words about Kamui Kobayashi," Kaltenborn insisted, "Over the last three years, he has shown us he is not only a fierce competitor on the track, but also a wonderful person and fantastic team player. Every member of our team has the greatest respect for him, and his podium in Japan was a particularly emotional moment for all of us. This has not been an easy decision for us to take, but we have committed ourselves to a new beginning. We wish Kamui all the best for the future."
Interestingly, Kaltenborn's statement contained the remark that 'our time with Kamui will come to an end after the final two races of the season', suggesting that the decision to sign Gutierrez had, indeed, been taken before the USGP last weekend. Kobayashi's team-mate, Sergio Perez, appeared to have committed a PR faux pas
by revealing the final piece in next year's jigsaw before the team announced it, but he was certainly right in his comments....
Perez is headed to McLaren as replacement for Lewis Hamilton in 2013, and Kaltenborn also found time to pay tribute to the Mexican.
"Our thanks also go to Sergio, who has claimed three podiums for the team so far and now has the opportunity at McLaren-Mercedes to display his immense talent with one of the most successful teams in F1 history," she concluded, "We would like to wish Sergio all the best and every success for the future.”