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)

  1. Hakka said on 2nd November 2009, 9:18

    He’s very promising, but hold your horses everyone: Nakajima recorded 10th and 6th in his first two races in F1.

    • D Winn said on 2nd November 2009, 9:32

      Those were my thoughts too.
      I thought Naka was one to watch after his first race – in Brazil 07 – but then …..

  2. Rahim said on 2nd November 2009, 9:20

    Feel sad for Kimi Raikkonen….what an end to the season…:-(

  3. Rahim said on 2nd November 2009, 9:21

    Feel sad for Kimi Raikkonen….what an end to the season…:-(….i hope he joins mclaren

    • Steph90 said on 2nd November 2009, 18:29

      He probably will and don’t feel too bad for Kimi, the difficult season is at an end and hopefully he can get a better car next year.

  4. antonyob said on 2nd November 2009, 9:39

    Kobayashi was certainly not one of The Usual Suspects, 16th 2 years running in gp2 isnt great regardless of the car but he seems to have what you might call “Montoya balls” to overtake anyone regardless of who they are. Whether or not he can sustain that is arguable but great gamble by Toyota. Also see Buemi, another fast Seb.

    • i hope he doesn’t get frustrated like monty, and gets out, to run where his overtaking skills are welcome.
      he was overtaking schumacher, when everybody was saying it was imposible to do so.
      Nascar’s gain, our loss. Thanks f1.
      Now comes kobayashi, and does overtake without experience.
      Conclusion:
      It is more about skills, than experience.

      • Patrickl said on 2nd November 2009, 11:49

        It’s more about opportunity than anything else.

        Kobayashi comes up behind Button being at least a second a lap faster and with Button just freshly out of the pits with a full tank and new tyres.

        Button makes a mistake due to the changed handling of the car and Kobayashi breezes past.

        Montoya was overtaking Schumacher in 2005. when Schumacher was in the worst car. Raikkonen and Alonso were usually well ahead so they didn’t need to overtake Schumacher.

  5. antonyob said on 2nd November 2009, 11:34

    Its all about what you do in the race; pace is just one aspect a driver needs to have. Nakajima, Grosjean and Agleshwari (spell?) wont be dropped for any problem with their outright pace but because they cant deliver in a race. Koboyashi is no Lewis but if he scores points from unpromising positions, beats his team mate, looks like he can overtake and has steel balls then he’ll get a drive. Simple as that!

  6. sato113 said on 2nd November 2009, 11:47

    bring sato back and put him with Kobayashi then you’ll have one good team. one experienced and daring and one fast and daring.

    great blog Keith, can someone please explain to me the ‘average lap times’ graph? it’s mighty confusing.

  7. If Toyota are in F1 next year I would be surprised if Kobayashi wasn’t driving for them.

    I think Grosjean’s career has defiantly been harmed by coming in halfway through the season and not having the opportunity to get plenty of testing experience before he raced.

    As Brundle said during and earlier race, because drivers are entering F1 at an earlier age now some face the prospect of their F1 career been over by the time they are 25 but in Brundle’s day that was the age at which drivers would usually be making their F1 debut.

  8. Kobayashi has been impressive. Look forward to next year.

  9. Phast said on 2nd November 2009, 16:25

    I think he is great… seemed pretty composed when out on his own then flicked the crazy switch when he saw a car in front.

    Loved his sparkly fair ground style helmet too.

    Mclaren should pick him up for a song… Ham & Kob what an overtaking machine that would be.

  10. Oh please,Koba is not that good,look what happen to him on the 1st lap,JB banged wheels with him ,then Kubic did a number on him(thats why he was back in 11th.),and the only reason Trulli did not ram him is they are team mates…after all Koba learn to block from the master Trulli. With this F1 aro package ,you can’t run nose to tail , like JV an MS did in 97….that’s why JB almost went off three times ,in the late laps with Webber…turn down the sound an watch the race.

  11. OK, while we are comparing drivers directly for no other reason that their common nationality does anyone remember how awesome Najakima was going to be after his quite sterling debut for Williams in Brazil a couple years ago?(discounting his cooled-off fuel, ha) He’s no worse than he was then, and Kobayashi is no better than a modestly talented F1 driver who competently drove a very quick car yesterday.

  12. SoLiD said on 2nd November 2009, 21:59

    Calling Koboyashi a future champ is way too much :)
    But he’s not that bad.. he did some good races in GP2, and is the GP2 asia champion!

    The problem is that his DAMS team in GP2 didn’t do that well in the second half of the season.
    It’s a one make series, but some teams are just that much better.

    I’m sure we will see some monday tests coming next year!

  13. Dorian said on 2nd November 2009, 22:30

    Too soon to speculate what Kobayashi is capable of, but at least he shows a bit of promise and we can see that he’s got the racing spirit!

  14. The bit about Kobayashi having.”Montoya Balls” is spot on..I couldn’t have said it better. This is why I like Koba-san. My favourite driver of all time is Montoya, and I see a lot of that in Koba. He doesn’t care who the oponent driver is, he overtakes at any given opportunity.

    I think we’re all getting a little ahead of ourselves touting him a future World Champion. He still has a long way to go. Like Martin Brundle said during the race,its quite different when you’re rookie driving 2 races at the back end of the season, the expectations are much higher once that novelty wears off.

    I’ll support Koba for next season,will pass judgement once the season is well underway.

  15. wasiF1 said on 3rd November 2009, 8:00

    With some strong result from the Singapore GP with Kamui Kobayash driving at his absolute best Toyota may just change their mind about staying in F1 next season.

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