Toyota team boss John Howett says that Kamui Kobayashi has definitely moved himself into contention for a 2010 race seat following his impressive Formula 1 debut in the Brazilian Grand Prix.
The Japanese driver finished 10th despite a lack of preparation, and caught the eye with a tough wheel-to-wheel battle with eventual champion Jenson Button and a late pass on Ferrari's Giancarlo Fisichella.
Toyota remains at the center of the driver market at present, with current drivers Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock both uncertain of their futures and Howett openly admitting that the team is pursuing Kimi Raikkonen. He says Kobayashi can now be added to that shortlist following his Interlagos performance.
"He did a fairly good job, I think," said Howett. "He got past Fisi with a really good overtaking move and did a really good job to defend against Button and retake it a couple of times. Very impressive for a debut.
When asked if that meant Kobayashi was in line for a 2010 seat, Howett replied: "We have to look, but on this performance you have to say you've got to give him serious consideration."
But while praising Kobayashi, he did acknowledge that his lack of experience still showed in race conditions.
"He was still a little bit off the pace," said Howett. "He was struggling to keep the tire to its peak and really hold it there."
During the Interlagos weekend Trulli said that he had promised team chairman Tadashi Yamashina that he would not make any decisions about his 2010 plans until after Toyota's crucial board meeting on November 15, when the parent company will make a final decision about the team's participation next season and its budget. Howett said he was not aware of this arrangement or of any change in Trulli's prospects of a 2010 drive.
"I don't know if they've spoken or not. I have a fairly close connection with Yamashina-san. I've read it in the press, but I don't know what the discussion was," he said.
"All I know is the position of Toyota towards Jarno: that we don't exclude the possibility [of retaining him], but there need to be one or two issues that we get straight."