January 11 marks the birthdays for former F1 drivers Carroll Shelby (88 today) and Kazuki Nakajima (26), as well as Force India pilot Adrian Sutil (28 today)!
Texan-born Shelby started racing in 1952, winning his very first race in an MG TC. His promising form in sports cars saw him move to Europe and join forces with David Brown’s Aston Martin team.
In 1955, Shelby continued with sports cars, teaming up with Phil Hill in a Ferrari to finish second in the Sebring 12 Hours, while also making his F1 debut, finishing sixth in the non-championship Syracuse GP at the wheel of a Maserati.
He was unstoppable in the SCCA championship in 1956, winning 27 races – 19 consecutively! – in his Ferrari, and continued this success in 1957 after overcoming a shocking crash at Riverside in which his face was badly scarred.
His first F1 championship start came in 1958 in the long-in-the-tooth Maserati 250F, and he was unlucky to be stripped of his championship points after taking over from Masten Gregory to finish fourth at Monza.
His still-impressive sports car results saw him join up with Brown’s team once again, which made its foray with its Aston Martin DBR4 chassis into F1 in 1959. But the project was a disaster, with the outdated and unreliable (albeit beautiful) front-engined cars not able to keep pace with the mid-engined Coopers. But Shelby took some solace in winning that year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans with Roy Salvadori, as well as winning the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood.
He contested one further season in the SCCA, but suffered setbacks with a heart valve problem that had plagued him since childhood (which would later be corrected via a successful transplant) and he retired at the end of 1960.
However, it would be as a constructor and designer where he would achieve greater fame, designing the AC Cobra and then heading up Ford’s impressive assault on the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the all-conquering GT40.
The son of former F1 pilot Satoru Nakajima, young Kazuki started karting at the age of 11 and was soon prominent on the domestic Japanese scene.
And with Toyota on the lookout for local drivers to develop into its F1 programme, Kazuki was signed on a long-term deal, which was a surprise considering his father’s lifelong association with Honda.
But with backing for the Japanese giant, Kazuki was riding the crest of a wave, winning the Formula Toyota title at his second attempt in 2003, and finished runner-up in the Japanese Formula 3 championship just two years later.
It was off to Europe, and he finished seventh in his maiden European F3 season with Manor Motorsport in 2006, and he was named as the Williams test driver late that year, thanks in no small part to his Toyota connections.
While performing in the occasional Friday test driver outings for the team in 2007, he contested the GP2 series with DAMS, finishing as the best-placed rookie although without a race win to his name.
Signed for 2008 alongside Nico Rosberg, he finished in the points five times and occasionally even outqualified his team-mate.
Re-signed for 2009, his form fell away sharply and his season was punctuated by some rather ragged driving as he attempted (and failed) to keep up the pace. By now, questions were being asked if it was more the Toyota backing that was keeping him there, and Williams made it all but academic when they switched to Cosworth power for 2010 and Nakajima was shown the door.
His Toyota connections saw him as one of many drivers linked with the abortive Stefan GP project that tried (and failed) to gain a last-minute entry onto the 2010 F1 grid, and he has not graced the motorsport scene since.
Click here to view Kazuki Nakajima’s complete F1 results.
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