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Fans help Kamui Kobayashi fund Caterham Formula One drive in 2014

By Sarah Holt, for CNN
January 22, 2014 -- Updated 1352 GMT (2152 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kamui Kobayashi returns to Formula One with the Caterham team in 2014
  • The popular Japanese racer raised funds from fans to help pay for his drive
  • "Every single one of you will race with me in 2014," he tells fans
  • Sweden's Marcus Eriksson will make his F1 debut with Caterham in 2014

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(CNN) -- Popular Japanese racer Kamui Kobayashi is back in Formula One with the Caterham team -- and fan power has helped him return to the grid.

After losing his drive with the Sauber team at the end of 2012, Kobayashi turned to crowdfunding and asked fans to donate cash in an online campaign to help him pay for a seat in F1.

The 27-year-old explained on the "Support Kamui" website that he was too late to find a drive ahead of the 2013 season but pledged: "I will save all the money for 2014."

Patience has paid off as Kobayashi and Swedish rookie Marcus Eriksson have been named as Caterham's race drivers for the looming 2014 season.

"I want to give special thanks to all the fans who have made donations to Kamui Support," Kobayashi said.

"Their donations and gestures gave me extra strength to come back fighting and I am very pleased that the money they raised not only helped me but will now go to helping Caterham progress this year.

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"Every single one of you who helped with Kamui Support will race with me in 2014 and that makes me very proud.

"It's a great feeling to be back as an F1 race driver."

Kobayashi made his F1 debut with the Toyota team in 2009 before joining the Sauber team, with whom he won his maiden podium in F1 at the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix.

Read: Kobayashi's route into F1

He quickly gained a cult status in F1 because of his attacking driving style on track and his quirky lifestyle off track.

During his Sauber days Kobayashi, who is the son of a sushi chef from Amagasaki, claimed that he did not have a home but lived out of suitcase travelling the world.

Caterham have chosen the ice cool Swede Ericsson to partner Kobayashi. The 23-year-old impressed with his performances in last season's GP2 Series, the official feeder championship for young drivers aspiring to race F1's global stage.

"This is a very proud day for me and everyone who has helped make my F1 dream come true," said Ericsson.

"It's obviously great for Sweden that we'll have a Swedish driver back on the grid in 2014. This is what I've been working for since I first started racing karts back when I was nine years old, and now I know I'm ready for the step up to F1.

"Caterham is a young team and together we can take on the challenges the new rules will present in 2014 - learning together and continuing to develop as the season progresses."

The 22 drivers on the grid must grapple with major changes in the 2014 season, which begins in Australia on 16 March.

With a reconfigured engine and chassis to consider, as well as new fuel and weight limits, F1 teams will be working flat out to get their cars ready for testing which begins in Spain next week.

McLaren will be the first team to launch its new-look 2014 car in an online presentation Friday with Ferrari set to follow on Saturday.

Read: Formula One's 2014 rule changes explained

Read: American team to join Formula One?

Read: F1 driver numbers unveiled

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