Kazukia Nakajima, one of the sport’s more recent second-generation racers, will be celebrating his 27th birthday!
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.
Alex Wurz’s sudden retirement promoted Kazuki to the race seat at the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix, and he impressed with his pace in spite of running over hit pit crew at his first stop.
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 returned to his native Japan and the Formula Nippon championship.
Driving for the frontline TOM’s team, he claimed one win and finished runner-up, while also dovetailing this with drives in the SuperGT championship.
He was recently announced as part of Toyota’s line-up as the carmaker plots its return to the newly-named FIA World Endurance Championship.
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