Kobayashi: I have good chance of a podium
Home hero all-too-aware of race's significance
By Mike Wise at Suzuka. Last Updated: 06/10/12 3:42pm
Kamui Kobayashi hopes he can score a podium finish in the Japanese Grand Prix as he seeks to both thrill the home crowd and help secure his F1 future.
The Sauber driver set the fourth fastest time in qualifying but will start third on the grid because of Jenson Button's gearbox penalty.
He qualified immediately in front of team-mate Sergio Perez, who landed a plum drive at McLaren last week on the strength of some superb race performances this season.
By contrast, Kobayashi's position with his current team is under threat. In that context, a maiden podium finish could prove very timely indeed.
"After today I think I have a good chance of a podium," he said. "For me it's very important, of course, for next year.
"But I have no worries for next year. I try to focus on my job at the moment...and I think I need a podium as well. I think this week is very important."
Sauber have been expected to perform well at Suzuka because their C31 car seems suited to tracks with long, high-speed corners.
However, Kobayashi said he was surprised by their showing in qualifying having felt less-than confident in his car's handling during practice.
"When I look at yesterday, I think it wasn't realistic because we struggled a lot with the settings. In the morning I think we came back a little bit better and in qualy we flew, which is good," he said.
"From yesterday it was a good step forward. The team did a really good job today."
The Sauber has performed sensationally on occasion in races so far this year, albeit almost exclusively in the hands of Perez.
Kobayashi has proved the better qualifier, but has not been able to finish the job. He finished 10th in China after starting third and was a victim of Romain Grosjean's first-corner crash in Belgium having lined up second.
It appeared for a time on Saturday that his qualifying performance might be under threat, having sped past yellow flags waved as a consequence of Kimi Raikkonen's spin.
Stewards did not investigate the incident, however, with Kobayashi insisting that he slowed as was necessary.
"I saw the flag but actually I just didn't use DRS, and no KERS, and I lifted off a little bit. So I lose a couple of tenths there. So actually I think I had a little bit more pace," he explained.
"I backed off. I didn't use DRS. I didn't improve, but I improved after."
Besides the opportunity to place himself in the shop window for 2013, Kobayashi also explained that a podium finish might be "a good memory" one day.
"I said for a long time I get a podium at Suzuka in Formula 1. Maybe when I get to 60 or 70 I can say that. But without a podium I could not say anything," he added.
However the 26-year-old, who is renowned for his bold overtaking manoeuvres, denied that he would take any unnecessary risks.
"Taking risks is not my style. Why are you laughing? Taking risks is not my style."