Ukyo Katayama

Today we have a shot of sake in honour of pint-sized former F1 driver Ukyo Katayama, who celebrates his 49th birthday!

Tokyo-born Katayama took a while to work his way towards Formula 1, hitting the European scene in 1986 after winning several national championships in his homeland of Japan.

A season in French Formula Renault saw him graduate to the French Formula 3 championship in 1987. He returned to Japan in 1988 and competed in the local Formula 3000 championship, finally winning the crown in 1991.

His success – along with backing from his main sponsor, Cabin – saw him join the Venturi Larrousse Formula 1 team for the 1992 season. What he lacked in stature was more than made up for in bravery, but concerns over his stamina remained for much of his debut season.

A points’ result went begging at Canada after he over-revved the engine (but not before he’d collided with team-mate Bertrand Gachot!), and he jumped ship to the Tyrrell team for the 1993 season.

Despite the British outfit having enjoyed a few brief seasons in the sun, its fortunes were well and truly on the wane. The ‘C’ version of its 020 chassis was long in the tooth, and the new model – the 021 – introduced mid-season failed to improve matters, despite the promise of the Yamaha V10 bolted to the back of it. Poor Ukyo again went point-less, and found himself involved in a catalogue of spins and accidents as he tried to overcome the failings of the car.

Ukyo Katayama, 1994 Italian GPWith just about everyone dismissing his prospects, he came good in 1994. The new chassis, the 022, was miles better than its predecessor, and he promptly finished fifth in the season-opener at Brazil. He backed this up with another fifth at San Marino, and should have earned more points’ finishes but for some reliability issues and driver error. A certain podium finish went begging when his throttle jammed open at the Hockenheim.

His stock on the rise, he remained with Tyrrell for a third season. But it would seem that the 1994 season was a flash in the pan, for his next years – two with Tyrrell and a final year with Minardi – saw the ever-smiling Ukyo confined the role of ‘also ran’. At the end of 1997, he quit Formula 1 to concentrate on his other passion: mountaineering.

It also 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.

Once recovered, he returned to the cockpit and competed in sports car racing, almost winning the 1999 Le Mans 24 Hours for Toyota.

His mountaineering achievements have included successfully scaling some of the world’s highest peaks, including scaled some of the highest mountains in the world, Cho Oyu and Mt Everest’s Southern Peak in the Himalayas.

In late 2009, Ukyo had to be rescued from the slopes of Mt Fuji after being caught in an horrific snowstorm in which his two fellow mountaineers were killed.

[Images via Mitra Images, Only HD Wallpapers, The Cahier Archive]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.