Kazuki Nakajima is a Japanese racing driver who currently competes in several premier championships as Toyota factory driver.
He's a member of Toyota FIA WEC LMP1 team since 2012, scoring seven victories since then and finishing as a vice-champion in 2017. He's a regular competitor in the Japanese Super Formula Championship since 2011, winning titles two times in 2012 and 2014. He also competes with Toyota/Lexus in the Super GT Series, scoring six wins so far.
Earlier in a career, Nakajima spent three seasons in the Formula One World Championship with Williams, as a test driver in 2007 and full-time driver for two seasons (2008, 2009).
Nakajima didn't want privileges in his early career
Kazuki was born born on January 11, 1985, in Okazaki. He is a son of a former Formula 1 driver Satoru Nakajima, so it wasn’t a surprise he decided to follow his father's footsteps.
At the age of 11, Nakajima began to drivee karting and three years later he was crowned as the Suzuka Formula ICA class champion. He stayed in karting until 2002 and had a couple of notable results before he received Formula Toyota Racing School scholarship.
Formula Toyota champion in 2003
The fact that Toyota offered him backing for a further career was good for Kazuki since his father was a protege of Toyota’s arch-rival Honda, so nobody could say that young Nakajima’s career was pushed forward with a help of his father. In his first year in Formula Toyota Series, Kazuki became a champion after he has won 3 out of 10 races.
In 2004, Nakajima moved to All-Japan Formula 3 and scored two wins for TOM’S team before finishing 5th overall. Next year, his progress has continued. Kazuki became the series runner-up after scoring three wins. In 2005, Nakajima also competed in Super GT championship, driving in GT300 class, and he finished 8th in the final standings, with one victory on his account.
Next step - Kazuki goes to Europe
His talent has been proved at the national level, so Nakajima needed a new challenge. He moved to Europe and became a member of Manor Motorsport in Formula 3 Euroseries. Competing against some well-known names like Sebastian Vettel, Paul Di Resta, Sebastien Buemi and Romain Grosjean, Kazuki managed to win the race at Lausitzring and he finished 7th in the Drivers’ championships. His performances attracted the attention of Williams F1 team that signed him as a testing driver for 2007.
Formula 1 debut at 2007 Brazilian Grand Prix
Surprisingly, Nakajima got a chance to drive in Formula 1 Grand Prix that year. After Alexander Wurz announced his retirement from the series, the Japanese racer jumped into the seat of Williams car for the season finale in Brazil. It was a solid debut for Nakajima and he took 10th place in the race.
Before his F1 debut, Nakajima has competed in GP2 Series, driving for DAMS. He failed to win any race in which he participated but still drove in a relatively consistent form throughout the whole season. In his only season in the series, Kazuki was 5th overall.
Two turbulent years with Williams
In 2008, Nakajima drove his first full-time season in Formula 1 World Championship. Williams decided to team-up Kazuki with Nico Rosberg. His rookie season was marked by ups and downs and despite having a relatively good car, Nakajima scored in only five races, with the 6th position at the Australian Grand Prix as the highlight.
He also became the first Japanese who managed to pick points at the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix which is, as he once said, a thing that makes him especially proud. Kazuki’s performances dropped a lot in the second half of a campaign and he finished the season in 15th place with 9 points.
Williams retained Nakajima’s services for 2009 which proved to be wrong. Kazuki was involved in numerous accidents during the races and finished the season without a single point. It was almost a disastrous achievement, especially considering the fact that he was the only one who competed in every Grand Prix and who unfortunately failed to score.
Farewell to F1 and return to Japan
It wasn’t a surprise when Williams decided to part ways with Nakajima at the end of the year. Kazuki was without the racing engagement, so he returned to Japan and acted as a test pilot of Petronas Team TOM’S in Formula Nippon. In 2011, Nakajima was Formula Nippon vice-champion and was named Rookie of the Year. He also drove in Super GT and finished 8th in the series.
Nakajima continued to compete in both series in 2012. He became Formula Nippon champion after he won 2 out of 8 races and beat Koudai Tsukakoshi by only three points. In the Super GT, Kazuki moved up to the 7th position but those weren’t his only duties that year.
Le Mans debut and Super Formula champion
Nakajima debuted in 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving for Toyota Racing alongside Alexander Wurz and Nicolas Lapierre, but Kazuki caused an accident and the car retired from on lap 134. He also raced in another two races of the FIA World Endurance Championship and was a member of the same driver line-up that won the race at Fuji Speedway and finished 2nd at Silverstone.
In 2013, Nakajima finished 4th in Super Formula (former Formula Nippon) but finished 3rd in Super GT Drivers’ championship. However, he focused on his duties with Toyota in the WEC in which he appeared in four races, again alongside Wurz and Lapierre. The three again won at Fuji but retired from two races and finished 4th at Le Mans, so Nakajima found himself at the last position at the end of the season.
Solid results in the FIA WEC and another Super Formula title
For the second time in his career, Nakajima won Super Formula title in 2014, again with Petronas Team TOM’S, winning 2 out of 9 races while in Super GT he was 5th, also with two race wins. In the WEC, Nakajima for the first time failed to finish the season without a victory. He was again teamed-up with Wurz while Stephane Sarrazin replaced Lapierre. In five races, they finished on the podium in four. Drivers of Toyota Racing’s car #7 were 2nd at Silverstone, Fuji, and Shanghai while at Spa they were 3rd. Nakajima was 8th in the standings and he was happy with that result.
Super Formula vice-champion in 2015
In 2015, Nakajima again successfully competed in two championships. He finished as a runner-up in Super Formula, mainly because he appeared in one race less than his rivals. In the WEC, Toyota put Nakajima with Sebastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson, but despite some notable performances and 3rd place at Silverstone, at the end of the year they were too far from the top of the standings.
Traumatic retirement at 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours
In 2016, Nakajima stayed with both TOM’S and Toyota Racing in Super Formula and World Endurance Championship. The year was marked by probably the most dramatic retirement in a history of 24 Hours of Le Mans when Nakajima stopped on the last lap in the #5 Toyota TS050 Hybrid while he was leading. In other FIA WEC races, the #5 crew scored just one podium to finish 8th in the points. A season in the Super Formula was also disappointing, Nakajima was sixth in the points with just two podiums.
Five wins in the 2017 World Endurance Championship
In the 2017 FIA WEC season, Kazuki and his partners in the #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid scored five victories, the most of all crews, but it was good enough for just second place in the championship.
In the 2017 Super Formula season, Nakajima finished fifth in the points with one victory (Suzuka). In 2017, he also returned to Super GT Series, sharing the #36 Lexus LC 500 with James Rossiter. They were race winners at Autopolis and Nakajima finished sixth in the final standings.