Kamui Kobayashi – 11
When he started driving for Sauber in 2010, nobody expected that Kamui Kobayashi would get on far better with the car than his much more experienced teammates. But his charm, smile and incredible overtaking have made him a firm favourite with most F1 fans. And in 2011, despite only one full season under his belt, he has taken the mantle of team leader with no problems. He scored points in his first seven races, though those in Australia were taken away due to a technical breach resulting in disqualification. But immediately it was apparent just how good the Sauber is this season, and how good the Kobayashi-Perez lineup is.
He’s had some impressive results. Making it to Q3 three times, he still picked up points in Turkey when he was unable to compete in Q1 and started at the back of the grid – though to be fair that’s normal this year as you save your tyres that way. But his best-ever F1 result came at the Monte-Carlo Grand Prix. Starting 12th on the grid after his teammate’s accident, he finished fifth. But he was running fourth at lap 76, before an unfortunate mistake saw him let Webber past.
Canada was another good race for Kamui, who found himself lining up second next to Sebastian Vettel when the red flags fell. Half of me wanted the race to end at this point, expecting that Seb would win, but though Kamui eventually had to settle for seventh, I am glad that it continued. He managed to stay in second for a long time, and got into some good fights with Felipe Massa. Indeed, the difference between Kamui in seventh and Massa in sixth was a few thousandths of a second – it came right down to a photo finish as Felipe overtook the Japanese driver on the start-finish straight.
Since Canada, Kamui has found it harder to score points. At Valencia he finished 16th, when Sauber’s tyre strategy failed. At Silverstone he retired after being spun by Schumacher. He picked up two points in Germany, but just missed out at the Hungaroring.
With 27 points, the Japanese driver is scrapping with Schumacher, Petrov (both 32) and Heidfeld (34) for a good finish in the championship. He might be able to do it, with a bit of luck!
Worst qualifying: 24
Best qualifying: 8
Worst finish: 16 (Valencia)
Best finish: 5 (Monaco)
Average difference: 3.10
Laps completed: 648/681 (95%)
Average race position: 10.14 (Best: 4.5 Canada; Worst: 16.5 Spain)