Satoru Nakajima is a former racing driver who pioneered the way to Formula 1 for the Japanese drivers. He recorded 74 starts in the Formula One World Championship between 1987 and 1991, driving for Lotus and Tyrrell. Before entering Formula 1, he was Japanese Formula Two (Top Formula) champion five times between 1981 and 1986.
Satoru Nakajima was a Grand Prix driver
Japanese touring car champion
Satoru Nakajima was born on February 23, 1953 in Okazaki and lived on the farm owned by his parents. As a teenager, Satoru began to race go-karts before switching to saloon cars, driving Mazda. In 1974, Nakajima became a Japanese touring car champion and after that success, he switched to the single-seaters.
Start of the formula racing career
Nakajima in 1977 started a long association with Honda and debuted in the Formula Japan championship, winning the title in the first attempt, and soon after moved to the national Formula 2 series. His first year in the championship was very good after he took the 3rd place overall.
1978 Formula 2 race at Suzuka, Satoru Nakajima
In 1978 Satoru scored his maiden victory in the series and again finished 3rd in the Drivers’ championship. For the third time in his career, Nakajima in 1980 again finished 3rd in the standings but in the following season began his supremacy in the championship.
Five-time Japanese Formula 2 champion
From 1981 to 1986 Nakajima was the real king of the Japanese Formula 2 championship. He won five titles in six, missing to rise to the throne only in 1983 when he finished 4th. During that time he won 18 out of 43 races and scored other 15 podiums what was a really remarkable achievement.
Grand Prix drivers Ayrton Senna and Nakajima
In 1985 Nakajima became involved in the development of Honda Formula 1 engine. While he was waiting for his chance in the most prominent racing championship, Satoru also raced part-time in 1986 European F2 Championship with the Honda-backed Team Ralt. He scored 7 points and finished 11th in the standings.
Satoru Nakajima debuted in Formula 1 at the age of 34
Honda wanted Nakajima in the Williams F1 team, but Frank Williams wasn’t ready to give the chance to the Japanese who despite his age was pretty inexperienced. However, in 1987 Satoru was given a chance in Lotus team, thanks to the backing of Honda who became a new engine supplier of the team.
Satoru Nakajima, Lotus 99T
Nakajima was driving alongside Ayrton Senna and, at the age of 34, became the first full-time pilot from Japan in the history of Formula 1. His rookie year was the best in Nakajima’s F1 career. He scored points in four races and collected a total of seven points, eventually finishing 12th overall. The 4th place in the British Grand Prix was Nakajima’s best result that year.
Two more years with Lotus
Nakajima spent two more years with Lotus team, this time driving alongside another legendary Brazilian – Nelson Piquet. In 1988 Satoru scored only one point after finishing 6th at the season-opening in Brazil. That year was really miserable for the Japanese racer who retired from the six races and even failed to qualify for two races.
Nakajima with Nelson Piquet
When Lotus and Honda parted ways in 1989 but Nakajima stayed with the team. Unfortunately, he again had a poor season but impressed by finishing 4th in the season-closing race in Australia and scored the only points in his last outing with Lotus.
Move to Tyrrell
In 1990 Nakajima became a member of Tyrrell team, alongside Jean Alesi, but the results of the Japanese driver were poor and most of the races he ended with retirement. However, Satoru earned 3 points after finishing 6th in the US, Italy, and Japan.
Satoru Nakajima, Tyrrell, 1991
In the second year with the team, the results were even worse. The start of 1991 campaign was promising after Nakajima finished 5th in the US Grand Prix at Phoenix street circuit. That was the last race in which Japanese pilot was able to score and at the end of the year, he retired from the series.
Nakajima as a team owner
After retiring from racing, Nakajima remained in motorsport as the team owner – Nakajima Racing. His team won three Drivers’ titles in Formula Nippon in the late 1990s and early 2000s and always is among the best in the series.
Nakajima’s sons Kazuki and Daisuke are also racing drivers and both developed respectable careers.