Former F1 driver Ukyo Katayama is celebrating his 47th birthday today.
The Japanese driver competed in 97 Grands Prix (starting 95 of them) between 1992 and 1997 for the likes of Venturi Larrousse, Tyrrell and Minardi. He scored a total of five championship points, all of them with Tyrrell in 1994.
While hardly disgracing himself in his first two seasons of F1, little was thought of and expected from this tiny man, who carried a reputation of lacking in fitness and being frail overall.
It was certainly a close association with Mild Seven cigarettes that helped to extend his career into the 1994 season, where he defied all expectations with some sensational drives – many of which, sadly, went unrewarded with 12 race retirements during the season. One such example was the German Grand Prix, where he was running in third and would almost certainly have finished on the podium were it not for his throttle failing.
Despite an offer from a bigger team, he stayed on with Tyrrell for two further seasons, but his performances waned and his tendency for accidents re-emerged, including a frightening barrel-roll at the start of the 1995 Portuguese Grand Prix.
A final season with Minardi in 1997 yielded little, and he emotionally announced his retirement at the end of the season.
It emerged that Katayama had been diagnosed with a non-malignant cancer in his back in 1994, and he delayed treatment until he retired from F1.
Fully recovered, he turned to sports car racing. He came close to winning the 1999 Le Mans 24 Hours for Toyota, when in the final hour, he suffered a puncture and lost the lead to the eventual winners, BMW. Ukyo also returned to the F1 paddock to compete in the Speedcar Series alongside other retired F1 contemporaries.
Ukyo’s other love is mountaineering, and he has successfully scaled many of the world’s tallest peaks, including Mount Everest (pictured left). Tragically in 2009, a routine climb up Mount Fuji turned disastrous when his claiming party got lost in poor conditions, and two of his climbing partners perished before they could be rescued.
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