Autocar's favourite racing drivers: Kamui Kobayashi

The brief was simple. An email to all the journalists on Autocar: pick your favourite racing driver of all time. 

What we didn’t expect was quite the repertoire of answers that came back. Covering most eras and a vast spectrum of the sport – from Formula 1 to club racing – it just goes to show how varied motorsport and its followers are.  For once, there are no wrong answers: it has led to many discussions and a fair amount of incredulity but, in the end, it’s all about personal choice.  

Do you agree with us? Would you go for someone different? Let us know in the comments below. 

Kamui Kobayashi

Timo Glock crashed so nastily during qualifying for the 2009 Japanese Grand Prix that he still wasn’t fit to race a fortnight later as Formula 1 arrived in Brazil. Toyota therefore had to call upon its reserve driver, 23-year-old Kamui Kobayashi.

He was fresh off the back of finishing 16th in the GP2 championship for the second season running, so I assumed that he was simply the latest in the long lineage of drivers who had been elevated above their natural station by Honda and Toyota in desperation for a home hero.

How wrong I was. Kobayashi immediately caught my eye with his full-bore driving style and sealed the deal for a wide-eyed schoolboy watching his first F1 season with his passionate defending of sixth position from Jenson Button, who was extremely wary in the chase for the title. Button described Kobayashi as “absolutely crazy and very aggressive” after the race; I agreed, and that’s precisely why I instantly had myself a new favourite F1 driver. 

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A strong sixth-place finish in the season finale convinced Sauber to sign up Kobayashi for 2010 after Toyota quit the sport, and I was relieved. Glossing over a massive crash in the first race of the year, he continued to epitomise my enthusiasm with his tyre-testing, extremely-late-braking ‘banzai overtakes’, as Martin Brundle christened them, most memorably at the Suzuka hairpin.

Suzuka was also the site of his finest moment in F1, in 2012: a superb third-place finish. I can still hear the raptuous Japanese crowd chanting “Kamui! Kamui!” throughout the podium ceremony.

Although not especially one for the limelight, Kobayashi always came across as a humble, good-humoured and thoroughly decent bloke whenever he was in the public eye. That’s just another reason why I couldn’t have been more delighted to see my boyhood racing hero blossom in the FIA World Endurance Championship, reunited with Toyota, culminating in the title last year. 


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