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Kobayashi returns without pay

2014-01-22 08:35

WILL RACE FOR FREE: Kamui Kobayashi returns to F1 with Caterham albeit for free in 2014. Image: AFP

LONDON, England - Kamui Kobayashi has returned to F1 with Caterham after agreeing to race for no salary and to pay the team more than R10-million raised by fans' online donations.

He said he met owner Tony Fernandes at a Queens Park Rangers soccer match in London, England, in December 2013 and said he “just wanted to drive”.

Kobayashi said: "I am free. You get more money than me. We paid with my fans' donations and I have to really thank my Japanese fans. I think I could not get this seat without my fans.

"I don't need money. I just want to drive. I don't care about money. I want to be a success in my life and bring the team that success. This is my goal."


Kobayashi, the only Japanese F1 driver in the 2014 line-up, set up a website in 2012 to get him back on the grid at a time when more and more teams were looking for drivers with financial backing. It was too late for 2013 but he kept on plugging away while racing in sports cars with Ferrari.

Fernandes, unsurprisingly, was quite happy with the zero salary arrangement.

The Malaysian airline entrepreneur, who also runs QPR in the second tier of English soccer and had been interested in signing Kobayashi before he went to Sauber in 2010, said the money had not been a consideration. He felt sure Kobayashi, a fan-pleasing driver who last raced in F1 in 2012 when he finished third in his home Japanese GP with Sauber, was just the man to shake up the team.


Fernandes said: "Whether I get a million, half a million or save two million, in the scheme of things makes no difference when you are talking about R1-billion budgets. What we thought Kamui brought is maybe that little bit of spark. Something you can't really quantify, that maybe just motivates the rest of the 250 people to say 'we've got a chance now, we've got a warrior who is going to go in there and do whatever to move this team on'.

"That's the main reason we've taken him. We've seen on the track, it's well-documented that he goes for it. My message in signing him is to tell the people... that we've got to go for it. This is it."

Fernandes said there were also business advantages in signing Kobayashi: with an Asian-owned team having an Asian driver and possibly bringing in some new backers. Even then, it was the driver's fighting spirit that stood out and changed his mind after he had previously been close to bringing back Finland's Heikki Kovalainen.

Fernandes said: "There's something in his eyes. He was hungry and I want everyone in this team to be hungry. It might be a disaster in some races but I'd rather die trying than not try."

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