Sauber impressed with Kobayashi UPDATE (GMM) Sunday at Valencia finally vindicated his decision to sign rookie Kamui Kobayashi, according to team boss Peter Sauber. The Japanese impressed with his feisty debut drives at the end of last year, when Toyota was on the way out of formula one and Timo Glock was recovering from injury.
On the strength of those brilliant flashes, Sauber signed the 23-year-old to complement the veteran Pedro de la Rosa for 2010; the Swiss team's first season in the wake of BMW's departure as owner.
Kobayashi's Valencia weekend did not get off to a great start when he was out-qualified by de la Rosa, but his name featured prominently throughout the race.
He leapt towards the front because he started on the harder tires and didn't pit with the bulk of the field, but when he was running prominently his lap times were fully competitive and he comfortably held off the reigning world champion Jenson Button.
He made his mandatory pitstop with only four laps to run, famously overtaking first Fernando Alonso and then Sebastien Buemi within sight of the checkered flag.
"Kamui was absolutely amazing," said founder Sauber before leaving Spain.
"The lap times which he put in while he was in third were stunning."
And Sauber added on Wednesday: "Signing a rookie is always something of a risk; on Sunday Kamui delivered confirmation that we made the right decision."06/30/10 Peter Sauber's team celebrated a strong performance and six points at the European Grand Prix. The Team Principal, Technical Director James Key, the irrepressible overtaker Kamui Kobayashi and Pedro de la Rosa, who was retrospectively demoted from the points-scoring positions, reflect on the results from Valencia.
What can you say about Kamui Kobayashi's performance?
PS: "I can only think of one word for it - amazing! I was obviously thrilled by his two overtaking moves at the end of the race, but what impressed me most was how Kamui mastered his long stint on the hard tires. At times he was setting some of the fastest lap times of any driver, but still managed to look after his tires. He also drove very consistently and didn't allow himself to be put under pressure by Jenson Button. Signing a rookie is always something of a risk; on Sunday Kamui delivered confirmation that we made the right decision."
What were you thinking when Kamui Kobayashi launched his attack on Fernando Alonso?
PS: "I just hoped it would have a good result. Kamui was ninth when he took on Alonso; in other words, there were points at stake - points we desperately needed. When he managed to get by and then also passed Sébastien Buemi, I was clearly overjoyed, just like everybody else."
How much of this success can be attributed to the car?
PS: "These kinds of lap times are only possible if both the driver and the car are quick; there's no other way. The C29 has a huge amount of potential, but it doesn't make it easy for our engineers and drivers to fully exploit this potential every time. When I compare our qualifying performance in Valencia with the lap times in the race, I can't work it out."
Why was the C29 so competitive in the race?
JK: "There are several reasons. When a driver finds himself in a competitive position like that he always finds something more in himself because he's following quicker cars. And Kamui did a very good job. The race also showed that the car works when it's in the right conditions, but the question we have and we had for several of the last races is why the car is more competitive in race conditions than qualifying. The drivers report that the car is easier to drive in the race, and tire degradation wasn't a problem either, so we weren't particularly hard on the tires. We need to look into the data, now that both drivers delivered a competitive race after a qualifying that was not up to our expectations. We need to pin down the differences in how the car is feeling and handling and see how we can apply that to qualifying."
What are the next development steps?
JK: "We are currently in the process of splitting our resources as best we can between the current car and the C30. We are a private team and we don't have unlimited resources to do everything we want. For Silverstone we have some front wing updates and modifications around the middle of the car. Then for Hockenheim we will have a rear end update which includes a diffuser step as well. The numbers in the wind tunnel are progressing well. At the same time we are focusing on Spa and Monza for lower downforce and drag configurations. And there will be further steps towards the end of the year."
Before the summer break, there will be three races in Silverstone, Hockenheim and Budapest. How will they suit the C29?
JK: "We are in a position now where the car is more suited to some track layouts than to others. You can see that looking at our qualifying performance in Barcelona and Istanbul compared to Montreal and Valencia. However, we are working on our weaknesses, and we made a first step with our update in Valencia. Silverstone should be better suited to our car. It's mainly a mix of medium and high-speed corners which our car is definitely well balanced for. Hockenheim is a fairly normal track with a mix of low, medium and high-speed corners. I expect this to be an event where things will be very close. Hockenheim might be a little less suited to our car than Silverstone. Hungary is mainly low and medium-speed, but we are working on improving our performance in low-speed corners, and our goal is to improve the car mechanically for Hockenheim and Budapest."
How risky were your overtaking maneuvers on Fernando Alonso and Sébastien Buemi in the penultimate and final laps?
KK: "It's difficult to say, of course. My car was feeling good and I had a lot more grip than Fernando and Sébastien with my fresh tires; my lap times were clearly better. I only had four laps with the new tires. I was genuinely faster, so I had to give it a try. I just wanted to get the most I could out of the situation. I was sure that I could get past as long as they didn't make any strange moves under braking. I didn't expect them to, as both of them are good drivers and would not throw away their points shortly before the end of the race."
In Istanbul you wore out your tires too quickly. Did this experience help you in Valencia?
KK: "Yes, for sure. The race in Turkey was a good experience, although the two situations were different in terms of tire wear. In Valencia I kept a close eye on my tires and had no problem at all running for 53 laps on the one set of harder-compound tires."
How much pressure were you under from Jenson Button, who was running just one to one-and-a-half seconds behind you for almost 40 laps?
KK: "I definitely felt pressure - most of all immediately after the Safety Car phase. Of course I knew that Jenson was behind me in a faster car and also had the fresher tires at that point. But, at the same time, I knew it isn't that easy to overtake on this city circuit, and I had to avoid getting worked up because I had to look after my tires. Although I improved my lap times, my focus was on conserving my tires sensibly."
Has this race increased your confidence levels?
KK: "Of course - in particular because we were able to maintain a strong race pace, which was incredibly enjoyable. It's very clear that our weakness lies in qualifying. If we can secure a better position on the grid for the races, we'll be able to score points more often. In Valencia, especially, there was a pretty big difference in track conditions between qualifying and the race. In the race, the asphalt offered a lot more grip, and that helped us. The track became more and more grippy and, at the same time, braking stability and traction improved as the car got lighter."
Pedro de la Rosa
The way the race developed played into the hands of your team-mate's tire strategy. Are you disappointed that the split strategy that saw you start on the soft tires and Kamui on the harder compound was not decided the other way round?
PDLR: "No, not really. We spread the strategy as a team, which allowed us to cover various scenarios. Nobody can say in advance how the race will develop. When you qualify so far back it is important - and the correct decision - not to put all your eggs in one basket for the race. If you just do what everyone else is doing, logically you've got no chance of achieving anything."
To what extent did the race performance of the C29 differ from the previous GP?
PDLR: "We were stronger in the race in Valencia than in any race so far. The changes we've made to the car help us through slow corners and have improved the stability of the rear. That, in turn, allows the rear tires to last longer. The upgrades for Valencia were certainly a step in the right direction, and that is very, very important. Regarding our performances in qualifying, however, we still have a lot of work to do."
Having scored one World Championship point in the race, were you expecting to lose it again that evening?
PDLR: "No, that came totally out of the blue. I didn't see the Safety Car delta time on the steering wheel display at all. The Safety Car went out onto the track as I was going through the final corners. These are fast corners, and we were still running close together, fighting for positions, as the race was still in its early stages. At the same time, I spoke to the pits on the radio, because I had been called in for a stop. Eight other drivers obviously had a similar experience. To tell the truth, I also think that if one of us had lifted in response to the delta time, it would have caused a crash. At the end of the day, I was 2.8 seconds too fast and accept my penalty for that, although this offence has not always been punished in the past. Plus, the fact that nine drivers all made the same mistake at the same time indicates that there were special circumstances involved. I found it surprising that the penalty was five seconds; a 20- second time penalty is about right for a drive-through."