The famous father - Satoru Nakajima 17 Oct 2007
The announcement of Kazuki Nakajima as a Williams race driver for this weekends Brazilian Grand Prix heralds the return to the grid of one of Japans most illustrious racing names. Twenty years ago, Satoru Nakajima - Kazukis father - was the first Japanese driver to break into the Formula One big time.
Satoru Nakajima honed his race craft in the Japanese touring car series during the early seventies, before moving to single-seaters in 1975. After spending two years competing in Formula Japan he won the championship and was promoted to the national Formula Two series. Five titles later and Nakajima had attracted the attention of Honda, who signed him up to test Formula One engines.
Honda soon realised the commercial value of supporting a home driver and found Nakajima a seat in European Formula Three with the Ralt team. A year later and, still being championed by the Japanese engine supplier, Nakajima landed his first Formula One drive at Lotus in 1987.
The first of his countrymen to secure a regular seat in Formula One racing, Nakajima was a true pioneer and, undaunted by partnering Ayrton Senna in his first season, recorded some pretty impressive results. After finishing fourth at the British Grand Prix and winning an all-important point at his home race at Suzuka, Nakajimas success hugely improved the prospects of other Japanese drivers - including Aguri Suzuki - on the international stage.
Nakajima impressed Lotus so much he retained his seat in 1988 and enjoyed a positive year, finishing in the top seven four times. Although Honda stopped supplying Lotus with engines in 1989, Nakajima stayed put for another year but struggled to adjust to the new temperamental Judd engines. Despite finishing just four races, 1989 wasnt a complete disappointment, largely due to his fourth place finish at the rain-soaked Australian race. Nakajimas dedicated drive also saw him score a fastest lap in the treacherous conditions.
In 1990 he moved to Tyrrell but his new seat proved to be only marginally more successful than his last year with Lotus. His 10 retirements left little opportunity for scoring, although he did finish the season with three points and 15th position in the standings. His next season with Tyrrell proved to be his last and despite driving once more in a Honda-powered car, Nakajima failed to improve on his debut season.
After 74 race starts and 16 points, Nakajima retired in 1991 as Japans most successful Formula One driver. He was revered as a hero at home, even boasting his very own video game. Only with the arrival of Takuma Sato was his record eclipsed. More than 15 years have now lapsed since Nakajima left Formula One racing, but he remains committed to motorsport, running one of the most successful Formula Nippon teams and mentoring future Japanese driving talents including Toranosuke Takagi and, of course, his own son Kazuki.