Kamui Kobayashi, the talented former Sauber F1 driver who can now be found at the wheel of a Ferrari 458 GT2, discovers the Museo Ferrari, where he learns all about the Company’s history. Through his eyes, we also discover the extraordinary supercar exhibition, held at the Museum until the end of September
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
White like the colour of racing cars, red like a Ferrari. It’s a paraphrasing of the title of a book and its cinema adaptation that is very popular today among Italian teenagers and may sum up the moment being experienced by Kamui Kobayashi, the first Japanese driver employed by Ferrari, also because white and red are the two colours of the Hinomaru, the Japanese flag. Step by step, Kobayashi is discovering a new world, one where he perhaps thought he would never arrive, at least not via this route. His divorce from Formula One was too traumatic for him to be able to be truly happy, but Kobayashi is not the sort to get depressed. Rather than sitting around waiting for an opportunity to fall from the sky, or immediately moving to the other side of the barricade by accepting a role as a commentator, as some of his colleagues (even including ones younger than him) have done, the Japanese driver has chosen to accept the offer from Maranello to test his abilities in races with covered wheels. The 26-year-old from Amagasaki will defend the colours of the AF Corse team this year in the World Endurance Championship, at the wheel of the multi-race-winning 458 GT2. ‘It’s a great honour to become a member of the Ferrari family,’ he said on 11 March, the day he signed the contract. ‘This brand is an icon all over the world and it makes me truly proud to be the first Japanese to be able to race officially with a car by the Prancing Horse.’
It is the first time that Kobayashi has raced in a Ferrari, but certainly not the first time he has found himself using the horsepower of an engine produced at Maranello. Apart from his first two Formula One grands prix raced with Toyota, the Japanese driver has always raced with a Sauber powered by a Ferrari V8 engine. With the Swiss team, Kobayashi equalled the best ever result by a Japanese in F1, third place, doing it in front of his home crowd at Suzuka last year, whereas his fellow countryman Takuma Sato climbed the podium at Indianapolis eight years earlier.
‘It’s an entirely new challenge, starting with the fact that I share the car with my teammate,’ says Kobayashi, who will race together with Finland’s Toni Vilander. ‘In these races we find ourselves on the track with many cars from different categories and you must pay great attention, not only to those in front of you but also to those much faster than you, maybe an LMP [Le Mans Prototype] coming from behind at great speed. Toni [Vilander], Giancarlo [Fisichella] and Gimmi [Gianmaria Bruni], my teammates, are giving me plenty of advice and I will keep it all in mind.’ Kobayashi must learn Italian quickly to help acclimatise himself in the new group as soon as possible, but it’s not something that particularly bothers him: ‘I like the people here; they are very warm and friendly and, in any case, I have found someone who can steer me right!’ Yes, because there is a Japanese person already living at Maranello who has been able to act as a guide during his first days as a Ferrarista: Hirohide Hamashima, the former technical director of Bridgestone’s motorsport division, who has been helping the Scuderia gain a better understanding of the interaction between the tyres and the singleseater since 2012. The two first met when the Japanese company was sole supplier of F1 tyres, but can now share his experiences and insight into the world of Ferrari, one which remainshugely popular in Japan; not only in terms of racing but also, and perhaps above all, road cars. Sales figures in the country for 2012 are up by 14.4 per cent, with 302 new deliveries.
Hami, as Hamashima is known by the team, accompanied Kobayashi when he visited the factory and Museum: ‘He was very impressed, particularly by the trophy room. I can understand why. It’s always exciting for me too to see so many trophies, the evidence of thousands of victories in over 60 years of racing,’ he says.
Da issue 21, may 2013