Kamui Kobayashi is a racing driver from Japan who is best-known as a former Formula 1 driver. He recorded 75 F1 starts between 2009 and 2014 with three different teams - Toyota, Sauber and Caterham, not scoring notable results, just one podium.
In recent years, he's most active in sports car racing, including several participations at 24 hours of Le Mans, finishing best in the second place in 2016. In 2017, he broke the all-time lap record at Circuit de la Sarthe in a Toyota TS050 Hybrid.
Born in Amagasaki at Honshu island, Kamui made his first steps in racing as a 9-year-old, competing in the various karting championships in Japan. On his debut, he finished 3rd at SL Takarazuka Cadet Tournament, while in 1997 Kobayashi won SL All Japan Cadet Championship. He stayed in karting until 2001 and won many titles, including All Japan S Stock D class Tournament in 1999 and in 2000, he won All Japan Junior Kart Championship and Suzuka Kart Championship.
In 2001, after winning ICA All Japan Kart Championship title, Kamui earned Toyota Racing School scholarship and in 2002, he debuted in Formula Toyota Series. The year of 2003 was the first full-time season for Kobayashi in the series and he did very well, finishing 2nd, with two wins out of 10 races.
Japanese driver moved to Europe in 2004 and as a member of Prema Powerteam, he competed in three Formula Renault 2000 championships. He appeared as a guest in German and Netherlands championship and he also appeared at the Italian championship. Kamui finished 7th overall after he has won 2 out of 17 races.
In 2005, Kobayashi won two titles driving for Prema Powerteam. In Formula Renault Eurocup he won 6 out 16 races and took the title eight points ahead of Michael Ammermuller while in the Italian Formula Renault 2.0 he missed two races, but still managed to grab the crown. Kobayashi won 6 out of 15 races and again left Ammermuller as a runner-up, this time by a margin of 24 points.
Formula 3 Euro Series was the next stop for the Japanese. Driving for ART Grand Prix team, Kamui finished 8th in the standings, having 3 podium finishes from 18 starts. He stayed in the series for another year and finished 4th in 2007, with one win and a total of seven podium finishes. Before the end of the year, Kobayashi was named as Toyota Formula 1 team's reserve driver and a test driver for 2008 and 2009, replacing Franck Montagny.
Driving for DAMS, Kobayashi became the GP2 Asia Series champion for the 2008/2009 season scoring two wins out of 11 races, but in the GP2 Series, the results weren’t so good. In 2008, he finished 6th in the standings and in 2009 Kamui dropped to the 16th place.
However, later in 2009 Kobayashi unexpectedly got a chance in Formula 1, replacing injured Timo Glock. Kamui debuted at the Brazilian Grand Prix in which he took the 9th place while in Abu Dhabi Kobayashi earned his first points finishing 6th.
Toyota withdrew from Formula 1 in 2010 and Kobayashi had to find a new engagement. He signed with Sauber with which he spent three years. The beginning wasn’t so good. He retired from five out of six races. Later in the season, the results started to improve and Kobayashi at the end was 12th in the standings with 32 points.
He managed to pick points in six consecutive Grand Prix races with a 5th position in Monaco as a highlight.
For the third time in a row, Kobayashi finished 12th in the Drivers’ Championship in 2012. The year was marked with many ups and downs but Kamui was still very happy because he had three Top 5 finishes and for the first and last time in his F1 career Kobayashi scored a podium finish, taking the 3rd place in the Japanese Grand Prix.
In 2013, Sauber decided to let Kobayashi go. Still, he had a lucrative sponsorship backing and he could easily find a new team but he opted to wait until 2014. In the meantime, Kamui debuted at the FIA World Endurance Championship, driving AF Corse’s Ferrari in LMG TE Pr class alongside Toni Vilander and Olivier Beretta. He was also a test driver for Ferrari F1 team.
The results in the WEC were pretty good. Kobayashi became the first Asian driver who joined any of Scuderia Ferrari teams, had four podium finishes with his team and took the 7th place overall. On his debut in 24 Hours of Le Mans, Kobayashi finished 21st overall and 5th in the class in the race that was held during very bad weather.
In January 2014, Kobayashi signed with Caterham Formula 1 team but that season was definitely one to forget. Kobayashi drove a totally uncompetitive car and was never close to Top 10 and was closed in some huge accidents on the track. Later in the season, he was replaced by a couple of racers. Shortly after that, he left F1 Championship because he was unhappy with the team.
After leaving Formula One, Kobayashi returned home to compete in Japanese Super Formula. He was driving the #8 Toyota for Kygnus Sunoco Team Le Mans. Kamui achieved two podium finishes that year and finished the season sixth in the points.
He stayed with the team in the 2016 Super Formula season. Results were disapponting, he scored one single point in nine races to finish 17th in the final standings.
In 2016, Kobayashi was confirmed as a member of Toyota Gazoo Racing’s team in the FIA World Endurance Championship.The Japanese driver was teamed with Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin in the #6 Toyota TS050 Hybrid.
They were second overall at Le Mans in a dramatic finish when the leading car (#5 Toyota) stopped on the last lap. Later in the season, they added four more WEC podiums and a victory at Fuji to finish third in the final LMP1 standings.
For the 2017 FIA WEC season, Kobayashi's car was renumbered to #7. Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez stayed with him, except at Le Mans, where Stephane Sarrazin replaced Lopez.
In the qualifying session for Le Mans race, Kobayashi was not only the fastest driver in the field but he also broke an all-time record. His lap time was 3:14.791, what was the fastest time ever on the current circuit (13.629km) but also the fastest time ever, with average speed of 251.882 km/h. In the race, the #7 Toyota retired after 154 laps.
In 2017, Kamui continues to compete in the Super Formula, switching to KCMG team.