SUZUKA, Japan, Oct 7, 2012 (AFP) - An emotional Kamui Kobayashi thanked his "amazing" home fans on Sunday after a sea of flags and rapturous chanting greeted his first ever podium finish at the Japanese Grand Prix.
The Japanese Sauber driver gave a big, if bashful smile and a wave from the podium at Suzuka, as tens of thousands of spectators cheered, "Kamui, Kamui" in honour of his third-place position.
He became only the third Japanese driver to mount a Formula One podium and the first in more than 20 years to do so on home soil at Suzuka. Takuma Sato also finished third at the 2004 United States Grand Prix.
"I think finally finishing in points is fantastic, especially in front of my home grand prix crowd. This is my first podium and it's amazing. I am happy for the fans and so many people supporting me," Kobayashi said.
"When you look around circuit, it is amazing. So thank you to the fans and we need to keep going for the future."
Kobayashi's Sauber team-mate Mexican Sergio Perez has secured a seat with McLaren next season as replacement for Mercedes-bound Briton Lewis Hamilton, having delivered three podium finishes for the team.
Perez's success left Kobayashi under pressure to impress to retain his seat, but he started third and held off a furious assault from McLaren's Jenson Button to finish behind Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa of Ferrari.
"It was a fantastic race," said Kobayashi, one of Formula One's most popular characters. "We were really working hard to get a podium and my team-mate has a couple of podiums already.
"I had a couple of chances in qualifying with good grid positions, but I never had luck. I've struggled on starts -- many starts -- but this time I think it was good to start in third.
"It was not a front row, but the feeling was good because we had a long run on Friday and that was pretty good pace.
"I was confident through the week so when I gained position after the start I was pretty sure I could be on the podium.
"Then at some point we struggled a lot to hold Jenson off. The last stint was very tough."