Former Grand Prix driver Satoru Nakajima will be celebrating his 59th birthday today!
Nakajima was a motorsport star in his homeland, winning five Japanese Formula 2 titles before being picked by Honda to front its Formula 1 engine supply involvement in the 1980s.
When Lotus switched to Honda power for the 1987 season, Nakajima came as part of the deal.
Paired alongside the illustrious Ayrton Senna, many thought he was on a hiding to nothing. But he plugged away and finished in the points on four occasions in his debut season.
An interesting point of note was that he was the regular carrier of the BBC’s only onboard camera during its Grand Prix broadcasts, but Murray Walker’s ‘commentator’s curse’ would strike repeatedly whenever the Japanese driver was shown on screen. At the end of the season, it prompted this wonderful exchange between driver and commentator (jump to 11:00 into the clip):
Back to racing, and in 1988 Senna moved to McLaren, while three-time World Champion Piquet was brought in as his replacement. The team’s form was weak, and Satoru finished in the points just once.
He stayed with the team for another year – despite its loss of Honda power – and soldiered on with the task at hand while the team’s continued its inexorable slide. His final outing with the Hethel team was at the soaked Adelaide circuit, and he stunned everyone with his wet-weather skills in the dreadful car, finishing an outstanding fourth and claiming fastest lap along the way!
Although Honda wasn’t supplying its engines, they did help Satoru land a drive with the Tyrrell team for the 1990 season. He picked up a trio of sixth places, but was generally overshadowed by his sensational team-mate, Jean Alesi.
Tyrrell finally acquired Honda power for the 1991 season, but aside from a fifth place at the season-opening race at Phoenix, it was a disappointing year for Satoru, who struggled to perform under the increasing pressure of expectation from his homeland.
He retired at the end of the year, and started a new chapter of team ownership, heading up the ultra-successful PIAA team, which dominated the Japanese Formula Nippon championship.
More recently, he was seen as a regular in the Grand Prix paddock once again, overseeing the (rather brief) F1 career of his son, Kazuki, who raced for Williams.
[Images via Carlos Ghys, Flickr, F1DB, F1-Facts, LAT, The Cahier Archive]