Kamui Kobayashi makes a welcome return with Caterham in 2014 having spent a year out of F1.
Last Updated: 22/01/14 2:54pm
Kamui Kobayashi makes a welcome return with Caterham in 2014 after spending a year out of F1 following Sauber's controversial decision to drop him.
Having driven for the Swiss team for the bulk of his career in the top flight, the Japanese was forced out at the end of the 2012 - largely for commercial reasons.
Kobayashi might be one of the most popular drivers with F1 fans but that didn't prevent Sauber from replacing him with the well-backed Mexican Esteban Gutierrez.
And even though Kobayashi had only recently scored his first podium finish amid joyous scenes at the Japanese GP, his status was not sufficient to enable substantial financial support from his homeland.
An online appeal, KAMUI SUPPORT, was launched to raise funds and even though it raised around €8million by the end of that year, Kobayashi instead spent 2013 racing sportscars for Ferrari. However, the money ultimately proved crucial in helping him land his latest drive.
A year out of F1 was a deflating situation for a driver whose spirit and commitment in two stand-in races for Toyota at the end of 2009 had so captured the imagination. Yet Kobayashi always pinned his hopes on a 2014 return and in joining forces with Caterham, the sun has risen once more on the 27-year-old's F1 career.
Kobayashi began his racing career in karting before moving on to the Formula Renault series in 2004 and he joined the Formula 3 Euroseries in 2006, becoming a member of the ASM team alongside Sebastian Vettel.
At the beginning of 2007, Kobayashi was named as a Toyota Formula 1 test driver. All the while his career was progressing solidly - if far from spectacularly - in GP2 but momentum was exponential after his sudden promotion to a race seat.
That came after Timo Glock was injured in a crash at the 2009 Japanese Grand Prix and deputising in both Brazil and Abu Dhabi, Kobayashi hungrily grabbed his chance. For a start, he impressed in a duel with Jenson Button (who was fighting for the title at the time) at Interlagos and then earned a points-finish in the season finale ahead of veteran Jarno Trulli.
Briefly, it seemed as though F1's newest hero would have to start back at zero when Toyota announced its withdrawal from the sport. But with Kobayashi suddenly pondering life working at his father's restaurant, Sauber came to the rescue.
Kobayashi didn't disappoint as his 32 points and 12th place in the Drivers' Championship saw him beat the other rookies on the grid in 2010. Furthermore, his ability to overtake more seasoned campaigners was a highlight.
A place for the 2011 season was never in any doubt and with Kobayashi earning a career-best result of fifth place in Monaco, he again ended the season 12th in the championship.
Indeed, Kamui has monopolised 12th place in the standings in his F1 career to date, although in 2012 it was his third place at Suzuka for which he will chiefly be remembered - Kobayashi coolly holding off Jenson Button during the closing stages of the Japanese GP.
However, he also impressed in qualifying, lining up second behind Button for the Belgian GP.
Given that Caterham have yet to score a World Championship point, it seems highly unlikely that Kobayashi will feature so high up the grid in 2014. Even so, he clearly hopes that this season's technical shake-up will allow the team to make progress.