Formula One team Sauber have named Kamui Kobayashi as a driver for the 2010 season, ensuring Japan still has at least one driver on the starting grid now that Toyota have followed Honda out of Formula One.
|Kobayashi will fly the flag for Japan [AFP]
Kobayashi is the first driver to be named for the team, which is back in the ownership of founder Peter Sauber after BMW withdrew at the end of the 2009 campaign.
The 23-year-old impressed after competing as a stand-in for injured German Timo Glock at Toyota in the last two races of this year finishing sixth in the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after starting from 12th on the grid.
"In the final two grands prix of last season he was granted an unexpected chance to show his skills, and he made impressive use of it," said team founder Peter Sauber in a statement.
"Particularly in the Abu Dhabi race he demonstrated not only that he can drive fast and aggressively, but also his ability to successfully implement a strategy.
"I am convinced he has a great deal of potential and will be able to make the most of it in our team."
Sushi or F1
Kobayashi, who was born in Amagasaki and lives in Paris, ended the season in Abu Dhabi hoping for a seat at Toyota but fearing that he would have to return to Japan to work in his father's sushi restaurant if no other job offers turned up.
Kobayashi raced in Formula Renault and the Formula 3 Euro Series before being signed as Toyota's reserve driver for 2008.
He got an unexpected chance to show his wares at his home grand prix last season when he took part in practice at Suzuka after Timo Glock was ill, and later had a heavy crash in his return to the cockpit.
He had finished ninth on his debut in Brazil after taking part in practice at Suzuka two weeks earlier - the Toyota reserve driver's first time in a Formula One car for seven months.
A winner in Asian GP2 but less successful in the European version of the support series, Kobayashi had no personal budget to continue racing.
"Ever since the start of my career I have dreamed of racing in Formula One," he said on Thursday.
"Now this dream has come true. I am very happy that my two races in 2009 have earned me a cockpit place.
"I will do my very best for Peter Sauber's team and I am proud to be able to carry on flying the Japanese flag in Formula One."
Swiss-based Sauber secured their future only this month when BMW sold the team back to Peter Sauber after a previous agreement with the mysterious Qadbak investment fund fell through.
BMW's pullout had left the team as official reserves and they had to wait for Toyota to pull out before being sure of their place as the 13th team.
The only other Japanese driver in Formula One last season was Toyota-backed Kazuki Nakajima, who failed to score a point and has lost his seat at Williams.
Takuma Sato, Japan's most successful driver, failed to secure a drive with the new Lotus F1 team and is still looking for an opening.
Kobayashi's confirmation makes it one less vacant F1 seat for 2010.
The second Sauber driver is yet to be named, along with the two seats at newcomer USF1, a partner for Bruno Senna at Campos Meta, plus Renault and Toro Rosso's second drivers.
Most speculation is upon Mercedes, with strong speculation that seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher will come out of retirement at age 40 to resume his career.