Kobayashi’s great drive and the Grosjean question (Abu Dhabi GP analysis)

Kobayashi put one over Raikkonen at the start and scored a fine sixth

Kobayashi put one over Raikkonen at the start and scored a fine sixth

How did Kamui Kobayashi gain half-a-dozen places and get ahead of his team mate to finish sixth in his second race?

And was Romain Grosjean’s race really as bad as it looked? The analysis of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will take a look at the answers to these questions.

Lap 1

Lap 1 position change (click to enlarge)

Lap 1 position change (click to enlarge)

The biggest surprise at the start was how little progress Kimi Raikkonen made despite having KERS. Kobayashi squeezed past the Ferrari driver and kept him stuck behind Sebastien Buemi.

Heikki Kovalainen used his KERS to make up the places he lost with a five-place grid demotion due to having his gearbox replaced, arriving in 13th behind Raikkonen. Giancarlo Fisichella, too, made up four places at the start thanks to his KERS. But this will be a thing of the past in 2010.

Kobayashi and Trulli

Kamui Kobayashi and Jarno Trulli's lap times (click to enlarge)

Kamui Kobayashi and Jarno Trulli's lap times (click to enlarge)

In earlier races this year we’re seen drivers who qualified just outside the top ten make the most of their heavier fuel loads to get into the points. Felipe Massa did this at Silverstone, starting 11th and finishing fourth.

But while Raikkonen slipped from 11th to 12th at Abu Dhabi, Kobayashi went from 12th to sixth with a performance impressive in its maturity for a driver making only his second F1 appearance.

Having beaten Raikkonen away at the start the turning point of Kobayashi’s race was his pass on Jenson Button. On the graph above you can see his lap time spike on lap 18 when Button came out of the pits in front of him.

Had Kobayashi remained stuck behind Button he would have lost crucial seconds and likely ended up behind team mate Jarno Trulli. His well-judged pass on Button was exactly the kind of opportunitic move the world champion pulled in races earlier this year to put himself in a position to win.

The drive has helped alleviate doubts over Kobayashi after two disappointing seasons in GP2. He is now expected to keep his seat with Toyota if the team decide to stay in F1 in 2010.

Race charts

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix race chart (click to enlarge)

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix race chart (click to enlarge)

Abu Dhabi race chart (average times - click to enlarge)

Abu Dhabi race chart (average times - click to enlarge)

A lot of questions are being asked about whether Grosjean will keep his seat at Renault in 2010. This race offered some useful opportunities to compare his pace to Fernando Alonso’s.

Neither made it into Q2 – Grosjean’s qualifying lap was 0.283s slower than the two-time world champion’s. In the opening lap scramble Grosjean got ahead of Alonso, but the positions were swiftly reversed (probably on the coded instructions of the team).

From that point on until lap 29 Alonso eked out a 10 second lead over his team mate – a performance gap of around 0.34s/lap. Grosjean had started with 2.5kg more fuel but made his first pit stop three laps before Alonso – probably because Raikkonen had emerged from the pits in front of him.

That meant Grosjean was among the first to be fuelled to the end of the race on the soft tyres. He struggled for pace at times and was passed by Fisichella and Adrian Sutil with two laps to go, leaving him last.

With little testing, a poor car, a beleaguered team and one of the best drivers in the world (at least) for a team mate, Grosjean has faced arguably the most difficult introduction to F1 of any of this year’s rookies. It’s easy to take a glance at his finishing position of last and lapped, and miss his consistent pace early in the race and the small misfortune that made his performance look worse than it was.

Whether that’s enough to give him a stay of execution for 2010 is another matter.

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix lap chart (click to enlarge)

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix lap chart (click to enlarge)

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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73 comments on Kobayashi’s great drive and the Grosjean question (Abu Dhabi GP analysis)

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  1. Anoop said on 2nd November 2009, 1:47

    It was indeed a good display from Kobayashi. He apparently comes with a great reputation from GP2 where he is known for brilliant overtaking (something like he gains 3-4 places if it is a wet race and more if it is a dry one). I surely think he is going to be one of the Toyota drivers for 2010.

    As for Grosjean, he along with Alguersuari cut sorry figures in Abu Dhabi. Really lacklustre displays from them. And what was Alguersuari trying to do by going to the Red Bull pits??? Had he delayed some more, Vettel who was coming into the pits right behind him would not have been able to come out of the pits in 1st place, as he did eventually.

    All in all, a good race, a great new circuit and a lot of suspense, promise & excitement in store for 2010. I can’t wait for March to come!!!!

  2. manatcna said on 2nd November 2009, 1:48

    Toyota should sign Kobayashi for 1 year, with an option on a further 2
    This is a future champion

    • Wouldn’t be better to sign him on a long term contract?
      If i was toyota i would bet on him.
      Get rid of overated, underachievers like trulli.
      we need new blood on f1.

      • Agreed.

        If you have rival team strategists factoring in the fact that one of your drivers often has a wayward race-pace to help calculate thier pit strategy I think you really need to take the hint…

    • Sush Meerkat said on 3rd November 2009, 8:28

      His overtaking ability and Timo’s strategy should make for excellent partnership.

    • Lucas.M said on 4th November 2009, 16:56

      We can not be sure about any driver winning a championship when no other countryman has won a grand prix, lets run through:-
      S.Nakajima – 0 wins
      A.Suzuki – 0 wins
      S.Nakano – 0 wins
      U.Katayama – 0 wins
      T.Sato – 0 wins
      S.Yamamoto – 0 wins
      K.Nakajima – 0 wins
      K.Kobayashi – 0 wins but good chance of one

  3. Harv's said on 2nd November 2009, 2:02

    piquet jnr was better than grosean!

    renault just made the season worse for themselves by swaping them

    • Patrickl said on 2nd November 2009, 11:15

      They didn’t make a mistake. Piquet was not good enough for F1 and he was scoring zero points. Piquet had to go.

      They could have waited till the end of the season and then gamble on a rookie which had never driven a lap in an F1 car (such is the testing restriction these days)

      Instead Renault thought it wiser to use the extra car for a half season test sessions.

      They didn’t lose any points because of this and they gained valuable insight in the quality of a possible driver .

      Makes perfect sense.

      • Paddy said on 2nd November 2009, 14:03

        it would be nice to see how Grosjean would do after testing because I was looking forward to seeing him. Piquet had all the testing and was still consistently slow. I also agree with PatrickL

  4. Koba-san desreves to be in F1. Toyota must sign him.
    Grosjean…should go back to his bank job. Yes, he had a really tough year for all of the reasons Keith states above. In interviews I have sen with him he sems like a genuinely nice guy. Unfortionately if he isn’t fired now he will be after next season. Better now and we can all move on.

    • Koba-san desreves to be in F1. Toyota must sign him.

      It’s the strangest thing – he was never one of the most obvious lads to make the jump up from GP2 in my opinion (and I’d have definitely picked Grosjean over him, myself), but in just two races he’s made more of an impression on me than any of the debutantes of the last two years. It’s so…weird. It makes you wonder how many of the front-running GP2 guys are potential busts and how many of those running in the midfield are potential diamonds.

      • To me this illustrates that GP2 is following the path of F3000 – you know that some of the people in the series are ready for F1, but apart from a loose correlation between results in each, telling the wheat from the chaff is very difficult to do. It is probable that other drivers less lucky than Kamui are losing F1 opportunities because team principals simply don’t realise that GP2 success does not necessarily equal F1 success (or indeed the inverse).

  5. Kobayashi had a great drive, in particular, he made a great start and maximized the one stop—but the data show that he was not quicker than Trulli per se, fuel corrected.

    Look, the Toyota is a very quick car. It has made Trulli and Glock look at times like superstars too. Remember Glock in that crap Jordan—he was no hot property back then, was he? The team just cannot solve the car and deliver the performance consistently.

    Kobayashi was nothing special in GP2, Grosjean was a stand-out. Look at them now. It’s the car. Keith’s intimation is correct—Grosjean really was not that bad, despite coming last. Similarly, Kobayashi may not be that good. Time will tell.

    This season has proved that the cars are not easy. And that there are two classes of drivers: It seems that unless you have one of HAM, RAI, ALO, MAS or VET in your car, you might as well have PIQ.

    • iceshiel said on 2nd November 2009, 3:20

      I have to agree that it might have more to do with the car than the driver. But I think both Kobayashi and Grosjean deserve a drive next year.

      • Arun Srini said on 2nd November 2009, 5:31

        It definitely has to do something with the car, but the main reason for so much accolades for Kamui was because of his inexperience, and with a car very similar to Brawn’s (that car is probably the best this year) and his driving skill – overtook the champ, and that deserves something….

    • Maksutov said on 2nd November 2009, 3:36

      Kobayashi was nothing special in GP2, Grosjean was a stand-out. Look at them now. It’s the car. Keith’s intimation is correct—Grosjean really was not that bad, despite coming last. Similarly, Kobayashi may not be that good. Time will tell.

      It is hard to tell what Grosjean is like but your comment “Kobayashi may not be that good” .. well I disagree with that.

      Sure thing Kobayashi has a slightly better car, but thats not all that counts, his first debut with conditions and track he never driven before shows that he’s got lots of confidence and accuracy and great consistency so far. Furthermore Kobayashi has not made any mistakes while Grosjean made about a 100 when he started.

    • Maksutov said on 2nd November 2009, 3:38

      lets try that again:

      Kobayashi was nothing special in GP2, Grosjean was a stand-out. Look at them now. It’s the car. Keith’s intimation is correct—Grosjean really was not that bad, despite coming last. Similarly, Kobayashi may not be that good. Time will tell.

      It is hard to tell what Grosjean is like but your comment “Kobayashi may not be that good” .. well I disagree with that.

      Sure thing Kobayashi has a slightly better car, but thats not all that counts, his first debut with conditions and track he never driven before shows that he’s got lots of confidence and accuracy and great consistency so far. Furthermore Kobayashi has not made any mistakes while Grosjean made about a 100 when he started.

    • Patrickl said on 2nd November 2009, 11:30

      I’m not that convinced about Kobayashi either. He does show the confidence and guts, but I don’t think he has the speed. His “gutsy moves” will probably give several DNF’s too

      In Brazil Kobayashi was pretty slow. Started tenth and with 5 drivers crashing out ahead of him he still finished 10th. He was a backmarker when Trulli was driving close to the front. Still that was his first race and it was a reasonable debut.

      This weekend he did some glory runs during free practice. This had a lot of people fooled, but in qualifying the truth came out and he showed that he really was 4 tenths slower than Trulli.

      In comparison, Liuzzi was faster than Sutil (in Q1) and Grosjean was 3 tenths off of Alonso’s pace. Alguersuari was 6 tenths away from Buemi.

      Trulli performed really badly this weekend. He was unhappy with the car. Kobayashi probably had the better strategy.

      All in all a good drive for Kobayashi, but I’m not convinced he will really give the team better results over a whole season than Trulli, Glock or Kovalainen.

      I also can’t wait for the reactions when he takes out Alonso or Massa. Drama will ensue “for sure”.

      • maciek said on 2nd November 2009, 19:14

        Kobayashi was slow in qualifying, kobayashi had the better car, Kobayashi.., aw shut it. The guy just drove his SECOND race with consistent speed, never mind that he made a very patient, smart move on the new world champion. Give some credit where it’s due, wiil ya?

    • Also look at Kobayashi’s consistency… 21 laps that were within 1% of his fastest lap. Pretty good for his 2nd race

      • Patrickl said on 3rd November 2009, 9:44

        Actually looking at 1% is very disadvantageous for people on a 1 stop strategy.

        If you look at the charts above (comparing Trulli and Kobayashi) then you see Kobayashi’s laptimes fluctuate slightly more than Trulli’s, but otherwise his times pretty closely follow the “fuel adjustment” table.

        Much better than that “1%” figure indicates.

  6. Polak said on 2nd November 2009, 3:18

    Hats off to Kobayashi for putting up another great show for the fans. How this is interpreted by the teams is up to the ones analyzing drivers. From my perspective (the couch) it looks like Kobi is the best of the test ban new comers. He hasn’t played games and goes all out it seems.

    On the other side is Jaimie. After today he should be immediately fired. This is the pinnacle of motorsport. If you can’t find your pit then you should be done. His race performance isn’t any better. I don’t see why Torro Rosso is putting up with these drivers. Let them practice elsewhere.

    Jaimie’s stupid mistake almost cost Vettel a win and it caused a yellow.

    • Patrickl said on 2nd November 2009, 11:32

      it looks like Kobi is the best of the test ban new comers

      What about Liuzzi?

      Although that comparison says probably more about Sutil than about Liuzzi.

  7. The Limit said on 2nd November 2009, 3:24

    I heard this weekend that Fernando Alonso declared the 2009 Renault F1 car the worst car on the grid. When you consider that the former double world champion’s best finish this year was a third place, is it not surprising at how badly both Piquet Jnr and Grosjean have faired in the same machine?
    After all, these were both two drivers with excellent GP2 credentials. Could they both be that bad? The same can be said of Ferrari this season.
    Both Badoer and Fisichella are two hugely experienced drivers, with years and years of experience, yet have both struggled to get anything from the F60. Kimi Raikkonen recently stated that the car is ‘down on power and downforce’. In other words, the things you need to make the car go fast are not there.
    This is supported by Ferrari’s decision months ago to stop development on the F60 in favour of the 2010 car, simluar to what Ross Brawn and Honda did in 2008.
    I don’t think we have had a season like this in the modern era, with so many top teams producing poor cars. However, we havn’t seen the rule changes like this either.
    In stark contrast, I don’t believe that the Toyota this year was that bad a car. Remember the beginning of the season, when both Glock and Trulli sat on the front row and looked set to secure the team’s first win in seven years.
    I can see Kobayashi obtaining many enemies amongst his peers if his career extends beyond 2009 in F1. I see no reason why not going on the evidence of Brazil and Abu Dhabi. As for Grosjean, you have to feel sorry for him.
    He could not have picked a worse car to drive in his debut F1 season, and I am sure Fernando is glad to see the back of the 2009 Renault machine. He will get dropped, it maybe possible that Renault hold onto him as a backup driver, but it is more likely that a new team ‘may’ pick him up as he does have some experience in the sport.
    With the ban on testing, its not all that surprising that so many new drivers are struggling to make a mark. In many ways, we have to be realistic. However, Kobayashi has proved to alot of people that the lack of GP2 trophies in ones cabinet does not mean that you are a bad driver, unworthy of an F1 drive. Food for thought!

    • Patrickl said on 2nd November 2009, 11:16

      Alonso is lame for calling that car the worst. He simply failed to perform this weekend or didn’t feel like putting in the effort.

      He got that third place only a few races ago. No all of a sudden it’s the worst car?

      Who is he trying to kid?

      • Maybe other teams had surpassed Renault. If you don’t develop the car, and others develop theirs, then your going to fall behind.

      • maciek said on 2nd November 2009, 19:16

        Umm, well we’ve pretty much all known that the Renault was one of the worst cars on the grid since we first got a look at it – which series have you been watching?

        • Patrickl said on 2nd November 2009, 19:47

          The Renault was better than the Force India, STR and for most races better than the BMW’s too.

          That’s not “the worst” car as Alonso put it and especially at this type of circuit it did fine (Hungary, Valencia, Singapore)

          • Dennis said on 2nd November 2009, 23:34

            Alonso said he felt the car fell behind Force India which is actually true. I mean, if world class driver like two times world champion Alonso always getting 100% out of his cars can only manage to go to the 14th position, the car is really terrible. So he’s not “lame”, just telling things the way they are. Besides, he didn’t say it was the “worst car of 2009″, just that it “fell behind because they stopped developping over the last 3 races” (or something like that). He also stated the car was worth about 6th or 7th at one point mid season, on which he was right again. I thought it was a nice touch that Alonso said “both Romain and me were giving 100% each race”.

            Which brings me to Grosjean. It’s indeed a bit difficult to say how good he really is. It’s not surprising that he’s slower than Alonso of course. He didn’t have any testing and he got the opportunity to step in a car that’s not that good at all earlier than he expected. He didn’t do better than Piquet Jr. but he didn’t do worse either. So, considering his perfomances in GP2, I think he deserves a second chance.

            Kamui Kobayashi was very very impressive. It’s not just that he drove to the 6th place in a decent car, it’s that he drove consistently and pretty much flawless throughout the races without being a “boring” driver like Trulli is IMO. He really delivered some spectacular fights withouth the recklessness of Takuma Sato (who I’d love to see back as well, just for the fun!). This is what F1 needs, guys that show some good fighting on the court. He doesn’t care who he’s racing. As soon as those red lights go out, he’s pushing 100% and he’s willing to battle it out to the end with anyone, wether it’s Button or Raikkonen. I don’t know how his technical know-how is (Is his imput so valuable that he can really improve a car like Alonso, Vettel or Hamilton?) and wether he can do this kind of stuff for an entire year. I also don’t know how good his team in the GP 2 was (like it or not, it does make a difference, it’s always car + driver) but I liked what I saw in the past 2 races! Also, he did perform well in GP 2 Asia series. Just the main series were dissappointing. So if Toyota want to make a wise choice, I’d go with the “Williams-formula”. They just hired the talented Hülkenberg and the experienced Barrichello. Considering Kobayashi’s fighting spirit, speed and consistency I’d definetly hire him and an experienced driver. The wisest choice by far IMO would be mr. Nick Heidfeld. Toyota said they wanted an A-driver, Heidfeld outperformed Raikkonen in Sauber and Kubica this year and he’s the most consistent driver ever. (I do like to see Quick Nick in a McClaren but I could live with him in a Toyota as wel)

    • Hotbottoms said on 2nd November 2009, 11:58

      It’s funny how people these days feel sorry for new driver’s if their car is one of the worst’s on track. After drivers like Kovalainen, Montoya and Hamilton people seem to think that promising new drivers should have on their first season a car that can win races or atleast collect lots of points and some podiums.

      It hasn’t always been like that. Raikkonen, Alonso, Hakkinen all started with a poorly performing car and yet they are all F1 champions.

    • Eamon said on 5th November 2009, 9:10

      Surely you don’t think Kobayashi’s as good as Hamilton?

      • Eamon said on 5th November 2009, 9:15

        OK, so I don’t know how to use the quote thingy. Recent new comers who’ve made a lot of enemies by passing people seem to have done pretty well is what I’m getting at.

  8. Alpha said on 2nd November 2009, 3:28

    I think Kobayashi did releatively well, and certainly a lot better than his Japanese Friend in Williams!

    Despite making those illegal moves in Brazil last round, he race pretty well as a first time rookie in F1 cars. It’s rare to find an asian driver with such aggression. Well done.

    We almost saw some big accident from these rookies this year, like crashes at Belgian GP, (Lewis, Grosjean, Jeson, and Jaime Alguersuari) could well be avoided if team were given opportunity for Rookie to test their car before driving on the track. It is absolutely silly to ban testing of such an expensive sport.

    I wish Keith could bring up the topic again about Testing ban in F1. I am sure many of us would like to comment about it.

    • Tarzan said on 2nd November 2009, 9:55

      It’s rare to find an asian driver with such aggression. Well done.
      The guy lives in Levallois (Paris if you prefer). This might explain the agressiv driving style…

      • Patrickl said on 2nd November 2009, 11:34

        Besides, what about Sato? Ide?

        I thought this kamikaze style was something that was more prevalent in asian drivers.

  9. Hakki said on 2nd November 2009, 3:38

    After Sato finished his F1 career by team’s financial problem,Nakajima has been only Japanese driver, but He have disappointed Japanse fan. (He has not been popular since he debut, because even Japanse think that he could get the F1 seat just because he was a son of Nakajima(Japanse first F1 driver and he is still really popular in Japan) . We love Sato!

    This time,Kobayashi’s brillant battale with Button brings back the memory of Sato”s overtaking Alonso at Canada in 2007!

    I want Toyota chose Kobayashi not Nakajima as a regular driver.

  10. wong chin kong said on 2nd November 2009, 3:40

    I was impressed with Kobayashi’s drive, cool and error-free, especially he overtook Button, although on light-fuel load. Toyota almost certainly to sign in for next year drive, pending board approval of 2010 budget.

  11. GeeMac said on 2nd November 2009, 5:29

    Both drivers came into F1 in similar circumstances and while Kobayashi put his hand up and performed, Grosjean failed to impress. As such my feelings in the great Kobayashi/ Grosjean debate can be summed up fairly quickly:

    Kobayashi = In please!
    Grosjean = Out please!

  12. i say keep the young kobayashis. Hes one of the few people that arrived during the season and scored points.

    Also he wasn’t as erratic today either. Which was good.

  13. Kobayashi is a future champion!
    The guy is fearless and precise
    Best rookie this year

    • vettelfan said on 2nd November 2009, 20:15

      Bit too soon to say he is a future champion! He has had two good races, but I wouldn’t call him a future champion.

  14. Just two races in a not that bad car are not much to say Kobayasi could be champion material.

    Current drivers are much more concentrated in qualifying and make their own race, taking in consideration they can overtake during pitstops than taking some risks on the track to produce better results. Many people is saying we haven’t seen Vettel overtaking to win a race…

    I think (IMHO) what we like about Kobayasi, is to see something that we miss so much in this days: Racing Spirit.

    No tests, just two races in unknown tracks, no one single spin, and three points in his pockets… Grosjean would dream to be in that position now, and not having everybody counting his spins and run offs.

    • MinusTwo said on 2nd November 2009, 16:22

      Totally agree. He’s an exciting driver and has that balls-out style that makes him a fun character to follow.

      I hope he is in next year just because he is fun to watch. Whether he is a superstar or not will be proven in due time.

  15. carldec said on 2nd November 2009, 8:11

    what a horrible situation for Grosjean. I dont see how anyone can make a quality judgement on the guy based on that car and the lack of testing. If it was that much of a handful for Alonso with his experience and skill, how can anyone ding Grosjean for doing poorly too.

    What an unfortunate way to begin your f1 career.

    Kobayashi on the other hand… he really made an impression. I really hope Toyota keeps him and he grows into a great driver next year.

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