Caterham Sign Kobayashi and Ericsson

Following several weeks of speculation, the popular announcement came today, that Kamui Kobayashi will be returning to competitive action this season after being signed by Caterham. Kobayashi became a popular paddock personality during his career where he made his debut at Toyota in 2009 before obtaining a permanent race seat at Sauber, where he remained for three seasons. His third place finish in Japan in 2012 was the highlight of his career. Meanwhile, Swedish youngster Marcus Ericsson becomes the only GP2 graduate ahead of 2014, as he claims the second Caterham drive. However, are Kobayashi and Ericsson right for Caterham and is Caterham right for them?

Kamui Kobayashi enjoyed three successful season at Sauber
Will he find more success at Caterham and beyond?

Japan’s Warrior Returns

Many analysts will suggest that Kamui was unfortunate to loose his race seat at Sauber in the first place. His talent was evident and his exciting personality captured the attention of many paddock dwellers. Meanwhile, his wheel-to-wheel racing credentials were never argued, with his magnificent performance in Japan in 2010 showcasing his determination and nerve behind the wheel. He performed three awe-inspiring overtaking manoeuvres at the Turn 11 hairpin – It has been affectionately dubbed Kobayashi Corner by the ever-present Japanese fans. 

While last season’s Japanese Grand Prix was an entertaining spectacle, the lack of a Japanese driver was evident. One of the most memorable moments came in 2012, as Kamui snatched a well-deserved third place and the crowds responded, chanting his name before he came out onto the podium. The passion was clear – one fan was caught on cameras in tears of joy. With Kobayashi back on the grid in 2014, he will inevitably draws huge support and attention to the weekend.

KAMUI SUPPORT Crucial To Negotiations

Today, at Caterham’s conference at their factory in Oxfordshire, Kobayashi declared the importance of the donations made after his 2012 exit due to financial constraints. Through his website, KAMUI SUPPORT, fans were given the opportunity to donate funds to sponsor Kobayashi and launch his return to the sport. With Japanese businesses also aiding the cause, Kamui soon raised over £6 million and this money has been a huge factor in securing the Caterham drive. He stated, “I also want to give special thanks to all the fans who have made donations to KAMUI SUPPORT. Their donations and gestures gave me extra strength to come back fighting and I am very pleased that the money they raised not only helped me but will now go to helping Caterham progress this year. Every single one of you who helped with KAMUI SUPPORT will race with me in 2014 and that makes me very proud.”

In his year away from competitive action, Kobayashi wore the famous scarlet red, severing as Ferrari Reserve Driver and taking part in the team’s Endurance outfit. Unfortunately, his most notable action last year was crashing his 150 Italia, (2011 Ferrari Chassis), into the barriers during a demonstration run at the Moscow City Racing event, which was well attended. Kamui will hope to forget the incident as quickly as possible and his Caterham seat will  undoubtedly take his mind off of the embarrassing shunt.

Is Caterham Suitable For Kamui?

However, is the move an entirely positive one for both parties? For Kobayashi’s career, he was stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place this winter; the only entirely seats available to the him were at Caterham and another season outside of the spotlight would surly end his career once and for all. Hence, the Caterham seat had to be grabbed with both hands. However, the long term projections for his future do not look entirely positive. No Caterham or Marussia driver, young or old, has ever received offers of seats from teams higher up in the pecking order – even the likes of Timo Glock and Heikki Kovalainen were left out in the cold, (of course, I am not considering Heikki’s stand in role at Lotus as a true contract offer in this case.) It seems difficult to showcase talent in the lower regions of the field and this looks unlikely to change.

However, Caterham’s side of the deal seems much more prosperous. The team announced several weeks ago that they wanted to sign an experienced driver for the revolutionary 2014 season and Kobayashi will provide this experience. In Kamui, they have a known quantity – a talented driver who should be up to speed very quickly indeed.

Ericsson – A GP2 Graduate With A Difference…

Another advantage of Kobayashi’s presence is the fact that he will provide excellent support for GP2 graduate, Marcus Ericsson. The Swede becomes the first Swedish driver to claim a race seat in 20 years and after enjoying five years in GP2, he is highly experienced in competitive single seater racing. While drivers such as Charles Pic were rushed into Formula One without enough experience, Ericsson is tried and tested; a rare trait for a GP2 graduate. Unsurprisingly, Caterham were not willing to take too many chances this season after finishing bottom of the pile in 2013. 

Evidently, Ericsson is not as big a gamble as GP2 graduates tend to be. He has been largely consistent throughout his time in lower formula and with Tony Fernandes suggesting that he will pull out as Caterham majority shareholder in the event that the team do not improve this season, it is very much a case of safety first heading into a crucial 2014. Points could be on the cards during the early phase of the season, where reliability may be sketchy among the front-runners and with this strong partnership, I would be inclined to suggest that Caterham are better prepared than Marussia to make the all important leap into the points. 
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