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Sato's drama-packed weekend 30 May 2004

Takuma Sato (JPN) BAR celebrates a career best second position in qualifying.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, European Grand Prix, Nurburgring, Germany, Qualifying, 29 May 2004

BAR's Japanese star going from strength to strength

Despite failing to make the finish at the European Grand Prix due to another mechanical failure, Takuma Sato's eventful race marked another very strong performance by the young Japanese driver.

Sato's weekend started brilliantly with an astonishing lap of 1:27.691s in pre-qualifying, compared to Michael Schumacher's time of 1:28.278.

And the 27 year old's qualifying performance was almost as impressive, taking P2 on the grid 0.635 seconds behind Michael Schumacher.

"Qualifying third in Spain was a great moment," Sato explained, "but I just wanted to keep improving from there and this [was] the next step. I'm thrilled with my lap because it felt very clean."

At the start of the race Sato lost out on the first lap after a coming together with Jarno Trulli dropped him back to fourth place. During the first round of pitstops he regained positions to - briefly - lead the race before making his first stop.

Sato's three-stop strategy proved an almost perfect match for the two stopper that Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello was running, although after the final round of stops the Japanese ace emerged just behind the Brazilian... but on track for a podium finish.

It was not to be. Sato's relative lack of experience showed through with a very optimistic passing attempt on Rubens into turn one. Heavy contact was made between the cars and the Japanese lost his front wing, necessitating a fourth pitstop. Shortly afterwards he suffered a mechanical failure (his third of the season so far) and was forced to retire.

Still, it was a strong, convincing performance, helping Sato's developing reputation as the greatest Japanese driver.