Three drivers celebrate their birthday today: Stefan Johansson turns 54; Aguri Suzuki turns 50, and Vitaly Petrov turns 26 today!
The 1979 Formula 3 champion and Formula 2 racewinner in the early 1980s, Johansson had plenty of potential, but incredibly it took three years before he made his F1 debut with the Spirit Honda outfit. Honda switched to the Williams outfit in 1984, but Stefan had to tolerate a few guest outings with Tyrrell and Toleman.
When Rene Arnoux was fired from Ferrari in 1985, Stefan was thrown a lifeline and he earned two second-place finishes, impressing the management enough to be retained for 1986. A host of mechanical gremlins and bad luck meant no wins came along and he wasn’t to be kept on for 1987. Johansson joined McLaren for 1987, but was outpaced by Alain Prost, and his services were dispensed with when Ayrton Senna signed on for 1988. The rest of his career, which stretched through to 1991, was spent with midfield outfits such as Ligier, Onyx (with whom he picked up a surprise podium in 1989), AGS and Footwork, and he ventured Stateside to IndyCars and the ALMS.
Fifty-year-old Aguri Suzuki began karting at the age of twelve, winning the national title in 1978 and 1981. He started open-wheel racing in 1979, and took the runners-up spot in the Japanese F3 championship in 1983. In the same year in which he made his Formula 2 debut, Suzuki took the national touring car championship for Nissan, in 1986. He was runner-up in the Formula 2 championship in 1987, and took the title in 1988.
He joined Formula 1 in 1989 with the Zakspeed Yamaha outfit, but it was a disaster and he failed to prequalify for every race that season. He joined Larrousse in 1990, and impressed at season’s end with a popular podium finish at Suzuka (pictured). Staying on the the team for 1991, he finished just a single race, and joined the Footwork squad for 1992, remaining there in 1993, but was comprehensively outshone by team-mate Derek Warwick.
F1 left Aguri behind in 1994, although her made a one-off appearance at the Pacific Grand Prix with Jordan that year, and shared the second Ligier seat with Martin Brundle in 1995, with Brundle proving the quicker of the pair. Suzuki failed to qualify in his final appearance at Suzuka after crashing heavily and injuring his neck, which prompted his decision to retire altogether.
He continued to be involved in motorsport, setting up a scheme to promote young Japanese talent into Formula 1, and then setting up his own team in the Indy Racing League in 2003. In 2006, he set up his own F1 team, which competed impressively against much better-funded outfits before it collapsed in mid-2008.
[All images via The Cahier Archive]
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