The Lotus F1 Team was cheekily tweeting about it ahead of Sunday’s Korean Grand Prix, but they have finally confirmed a new driver signing…
Former Grand Prix backmarker Taki Inoue has joined the team – not to pilot one of its E21 challenger, but to serve as a regular columnist for the Enstone-based to team to give his unique perspective on what’s going on in the world of Formula 1.
The Kobe-born driver contested one Grand Prix with Simtek in 1994 and a full season with Footwork in 1995 before quietly disappearing from racing.
Aside from his love of expensive wines, Eric Clapton music and eating globe fish, little else was known about Taki when he arrived on the motorsport scene with bountiful sponsorship from his homeland.
He moved to the UK to compete in Formula Ford in 1987 before returning back to Japan in 1993 to contest the national Formula 3 championship. His results were uninspiring, with just a few fourth places being his best results.
He graduated to Formula 3000 with the top-flight Super Nova outfit, but even that didn’t propel him further up the grid, and he somehow scrambled to grab a superlicense to join the Simtek team for his home race in 1994. After barely scraping onto the grid, he crashed into the pit wall in the appalling conditions.
Undaunted, he gathered the necessary funds to buy the second seat at Footwork for the 1995 season. Miles off team-mate Morbidelli’s pace, he was generally invisible unless he got in the way of the leaders as they came to lap him.
His season contained little in the way of results aside from countless spins and accidents, but he shot to fame on account of two bizarre incidents: firstly, being hit by the course car when being towed back to the pits at Monaco, and then being run over by a marshal’s vehicle at Hungary after he’d retired during the race.
Post-F1, Taki disappeared from view for many years, although he remained a cult figure among the most diehard of backmarker F1 enthusiasts.
Now 50, Inoue resides in Monaco and enjoys almost 25,000 followers of his erudite opinions on his Twitter feed…
Below is his first column, reproduced with permission of the Lotus F1 Team…
What did you think of the Korean Grand Prix?
For the first time this year I watched the whole race! Normally it is very boring after the start, they are just, you know, ‘bye-bye’ finish. I usually just take a shower in the middle of the race then come back and see ‘oh yeah [Sebastian] Vettel won the race! Boring!’. This race had plenty happening so I watched it all.
How can Lotus stop Seb winning everything?
At the moment we can’t do anything about Vettel. The other teams are spending huge amounts and still they can’t catch him up. If I knew how to catch him I’d be there!
What did you think of the Lotus F1 Team’s performance?
It was very impressive race for the team and drivers’ performances. Kimi has huge experience, and now i think he is driving better than ever; maybe two or three times better than before. He has matured. Congratulations to Romain also.
There was an interesting moment with Mark Webber’s car…
Well the very sad thing is when it happened I was brushing my teeth, and I didn’t see him being hit by someone. I did see when he got out of the car and you could see all the flames. Then it looked like he didn’t do anything!
Maybe he learned something from me: ‘Don’t run with an extinguisher otherwise it’s more dangerous!’ That is what I thought. That was why he was just standing like a lemon! He didn’t do anything. He was just watching. I don’t know why. It was very strange. So the car was totally cooked, like a Korean barbecue. Maybe he was waiting for someone to bring him a cold Fosters…
Why are the drivers so popular in Japan?
The Japanese don’t have their own driver this year, but they see all the drivers as daredevils. The brand of the team is very important for the Japanese and the Lotus brand is very important. Jenson’s girlfriend is from Japan so he is popular. She is very popular too, for obvious reasons. I guess she looks better in her underwear than Jenson! But Kimi is like a superstar here. He just has charisma.
Romain is getting popular also; once he wins a race he will be a big star in Japan too. At least last year he made plenty of action for the fans watching! Not so much action this year, but he has great potential because he is a really quick driver. He could go on to win the World Championship in the future.
What are your memories of racing at the Japanese Grand Prix?
When I raced the Grand Prix I thought I knew Suzuka well from Formula 3, but in Formula 1 everything was different. The car was so fast that the track felt completely different! So my first impression – driving the Simtek in 1994 – was like the first time I ever drove the circuit. Also, the Simtek didn’t have the paddle shift; I still had the stick, it was so difficult!
The second year – with Arrows – it was a reasonable car but the weather conditions were so difficult. Damp but drying. It was hard to drive, so I just stayed on the dry line and nobody with slick tyres could overtake me! That one is the most memorable for me. After the race Mika Salo came to see me; he was very, very angry. They said I didn’t look at the blue flags, but I did; in the mirrors! Actually, I had tried to let them go, but they couldn’t overtake because of the damp track off line.
What do you think of Suzuka as a circuit?
Suzuka is a challenging circuit. So many circuits these days are artificial, designed by [Hermann] Tilke. Suzuka is a real, a natural circuit like Spa and Silverstone. There are not many left with their original shape. The 130R is a very fast, challenging turn. Also Degner Curve. I think even Kimi must s*** himself!
There are not so many gravel traps now. That was always my specialty, collecting gravel at every single circuit! I’m proud of Suzuka. I hope they keep it as it is. Fuji they have changed already. Suzuka is very special. One of the most difficult circuits on the calendar.
Did you have a big home fanbase?
Basically, Japanese TV hated me! At that time guys like Ukyo Katayama and Aguri Suzuki were there so they were covered all the time; especially Katayama because he had a Japanese tobacco company as a sponsor and they spent a huge amount on Japanese TV commercials, so they had to cover him. Suzuki was racing with a Mugen Honda engine. But Taki Inoue was a no-one!
Aguri Suzuki had his own F1 team. What would a Taki Inoue F1 team be like?
I would never run a Formula 1 team. Even a billionaire should not touch Formula 1! I’ve never thought about it, maybe in the old days it might have been possible, but these days forget it. Too much money.
What about the other venues in Japan where we’ve seen Formula 1 racing?
Apart from Suzuka and Fuji, the other circuits in Japan are quite isolated. Like Korea. The Tanaka Internationai Circuit was a small track in a remote place, and not so many nice girls!