Former F1 drivers Kunimitsu Takahashi and Jody Scheckter are celebrating their respective birthdays today!
Turning 71 today, Takahashi’s motor racing career started on motorbikes. He became the first-ever Japanese rider to win a World Championship Grand Prix, achieving the feat on a 250cc Honda in 1961, aged just 21. But a serious crash at the Isle of Man TT the following year put paid to further two-wheeled racing, and so he switched to four-wheeled competition.
He largely contested sports car racing during the 1970s, but the introduction of Formula 1 to Japan in the mid 1970s saw organisers (and local sponsors) field entries for their local stars to have a go in F1.
And so it proved for Takahashi, who raced the old Tyrrell 007 used by his compatriot Kazuyoshi Hoshino the previous year in the 1977 Japanese Grand Prix. He finished a distant ninth.
Takahashi continued to race well into the 1990s, winning his national sports car championship three times.
Turning 61 today, South Africa’s sole F1 champion, Jody Scheckter, made his F1 debut in 1972 for McLaren, just 18 months after his arrival in the UK.
He switched to Tyrrell for the 1974 season following Jackie Stewart’s retirement and stayed with them for three seasons, peaking with third in the Drivers’ Championship in the famous P34 six-wheeler, which he drove to victory at that year’s Swedish GP.
He then moved to the debutant Wolf team, amazingly winning on debut in Argentina and taking the runner’s-up position in the championship behind Niki Lauda.
In spite of much concern that he wouldn’t gel with the Italian team, Jody signed on with Ferrari for 1979 as the team’s number one driver alongside Gilles Villeneuve. He would take the championship that year, and was the last Ferrari driver to do so for 21 years until Michael Schumacher’s successive run of five straight titles from the 2000 season onwards.
Sadly for Jody, the 1980 Ferrari was a complete pig and, after failing to qualify for the season-ending Canadian GP, Jody abruptly retired from F1 altogether.
Scheckter now runs an organic farm in Hampshire, and is an advocate of organic farming and the benefits it is claimed to offer in the management of asthma, arthritis and diabetes. His newest project is to create a biodynamic sparkling wine by 2012.
Click here for Jody Scheckter’s complete F1 results.