Toyota has confirmed that Kamui Kobayashi, a product of the Toyota Young Drivers Programme (TDP), will step up to Formula 1 in 2008 as Panasonic Toyota Racing’s third driver.
Kamui, 21, has been associated with Toyota since 2001, and he first raced single-seaters in the Esso Formula Toyota Championship in Japan in 2002.
Panasonic Toyota Racing Chairman and Team Principal Tadashi Yamashina said: “I am very pleased to welcome Kamui to the team. He tested the car last winter and showed he had the potential to drive in Formula 1 in the future. Now, after another season gaining experience in Formula 3, we believe he is ready for the challenge of Formula 1. It is also very gratifying to see the TDP scheme delivering results and helping a promising young driver to reach Formula 1.”
With TDP support, Kamui moved to Europe in 2004 and spent two years in the Formula Renault Eurocup and Italian Formula Renault Championship, winning both crowns in 2005 - a title double only achieved previously by one other driver.
From there he stepped up to Formula 3, the traditional breeding ground for future Formula 1 stars, and in his two seasons in the Euro Series he proved to be a formidable competitor, showing all the speed and commitment necessary to become the new Panasonic Toyota Racing third driver.
Kamui said: “This is a great challenge for me and I am very excited about becoming a Formula 1 driver. Since the start of my career I have dreamed of reaching Formula 1 and to have the chance to join Panasonic Toyota Racing as third driver is a fantastic opportunity for me. The role of third driver is very important as I will be helping a lot with the development of the car throughout the year. I am sure I will learn a lot about Formula 1 cars and hopefully this will help me in my future career but for now I am focused on helping the team move forward.”