Takuma Sato: the driver debates

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This time last year Takuma Sato gave Super Aguri their first ever point by finishing eighth in the Spanish Grand Prix – beating among others Giancarlo Fisichella in the Renault.

But this year the team that was created to keep the Japanese driver in F1 might not even be racing.

Does Sato deserve his place in F1? These are my thoughts on his career so far.

Difficult d??but

There is one commenter in particular on this website who often complains that drivers get their start in F1 when they are much too young. I’d agree with ‘Number 38’ that Sato made his F1 debut too soon. He won the British Formula Three championship for Carlin in 2001, and the following season was racing for Jordan.

To say he was wild would be a massive understatement. There were a lot of crashes – although, in his defence, he was entirely blameless for the worst one that occurred at the A1-Ring when he was hit by an out-of-control Nick Heidfeld and was lucky not to be badly hurt.

But he thrilled his home crowd by bringing the Honda-powered Jordan home fifth at Suzuka. Three years later that home support saved him from being left on the F1 scrap-heap.

With Honda ditching Jordan for 2003 Sato found himself on the sidelines but got back in when their new team, BAR, edged Jacques Villeneuve aside. Appropriately enough he returned to the cockpit at Suzuka.

BAR had their most competitive season the following year and at Indianapolis Sato became the first Japanese driver to get on the podium since Aguri Suzuki in 1990.

But he was badly outclassed by team mate Jenson Button and even in his third season of F1 in 2005 he was clearly still very ragged. He infamously tipped Michael Schumacher out of the Belgian Grand Prix – earning a rebuke from the seven times champion – and crashed into Jarno Trulli at Suzuka, getting disqualified as a result.

The Super Aguri project

Honda had clearly run out of patience with him but were unwilling to suffer bring criticised at home for dumping Sato. So they took the unprecedented step of setting up a new team, Super Aguri, where Sato would be the lead driver.

The team rushed onto the grid in time for the start of 2006 and didn’t score all season long. But with an ex-Honda chassis at his disposal in 2007 Sato pulled off some surprise results, Easily the bet was his sixth place at Montreal, partly achieved by passing Fernando Alonso’s McLaren.

But as the season wore on team mate Anthony Davidson began to exert an advantage over Sato, out-qualifying him 9-2 over the final 11 races.

The future of both drivers in the sport is now in doubt as a financial deal that would have saved the team has collapsed. I don’t want to see them go, but I’m not sure a team built around the career of a talent as mercurial as Sato’s ever looked like a good long-term prospect.

Takuma Sato biography

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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17 comments on “Takuma Sato: the driver debates”

  1. Sato is in a class of his own :-) . He would never be a champion, even if Ferrari hired him. But … isn’t F1 more interesting with guys like him on the grid ?

  2. I agree with milos. He’s one of the characters I enjoy.

  3. the team should stay, we need as many cars in f1 as we can get!
    the team however, like STR r not intended to win anything and the owners are spending an enormous amount of money on something that isnt intended to succeed!
    so seems pointless having them!

  4. Taku has lost the train after his season in BAR, Button beat him 85 points for 34 with a car to get the podium in all races. But he is a spectacular pilot because you never know what is going to happen if taku is going to overtake someone. F1 needs pilot like Taku and Montoya unless F1 will be boring. Do you remember Montoya Passing Schumacher in Spa 2003 in Bus Stop, Or Alonso in 130R in Suzuka (2005 or 2006 not remember) incredible.

  5. Or Taku passing Alonso!

  6. Yes good example, anything else?

  7. He is one of the most aggressive F1 drivers on the current roster.

  8. erghh… reading my own comment made me think I sound like James Allen….


  9. Unlike James, Sush, at least you checked what was likely and reasonable before giving your opinion. Sato is very aggressive by the standards of the F1 grid ;)

  10. It’s faintly ridiculous that Honda went to the trouble of help setting up an entirely new team (which they now don’t seem all that interested in associating themselves with) just to avoid some backlash from the Japanese public for dumping Sato. Put that one down in the "what were they thinking" category.

    For all that, I quite like Sato and think he’s deserving of a place on the grid (just maybe not a specially created one). He’s not going to be champion, but it’s good when he has a car that he can actually fight with the midfield (or even better when he was at BAR). He’s got character.

  11. Sato-san is now more tame and given a better car would be welcomed on the grid.  If you’ve ever met or seen him in real life he is an EXCEPTIONAL personality,  and Keith rightly so referred to me  complaining about the useless kids that try to fit among the real drivers, We need more Satos and less Glocks, Nagajima, Piquets, Sutils, etc.  Everyone has to be a rookie once but ALL the above need more mileage in their logbooks before wasting F1 grid space.  Fingers crossed for Super-Aguri.

  12. i beleive that super aguri is a team with great potential if only they can find some resources and get some testing mileage…
    coming to taku, i also beleive we need to have more drivers of his kind… aggressive, fast, able to pull out outrageous passing moves.. makes f1 so much more exciting and make it interesting… they are like indian spices, making the f1 curry hot….

  13. Number 38, regarding personality, do you mean being a character makes you fast of a place in F1?.

    or do you mean he has character like Newtown?

  14. I wouldn’t say that Sato is without talent. Does anyone remember that race at Indianapolis in 2004 when he put his BAR on the podium?

    He drove the wheels off that car that day – without a doubt an incredible race that would have given him a win without the dominating Ferraris (an obvious thing to say, I know – but it was a particularly good performance).

    Any driver who gets replaced, causing such a backlash in his home country that in turn causes that same team to bankroll a whole new F1 project is pretty amazing!!

  15. I agree – Taku is one of the gems of the F1 grid. Always good for a bit of controversy or an impossible move on someone.

    Fingers crossed that Super Aguri makes it to Barcelona – any word on that, Keith?

  16. Taku might have been older than Jenson, but he did have fewer years of racing experience. However, my belief is that, he was put under too much pressure in both Jordan and especially Bar.
    Apparently his inclusion in those teams were somewhat geared towards sweetening the deal with the engine supplier, but it would also make good negotiating tool  to emphasize the apparent uncompetitiveness of him as a driver.

    As a driver free from excessive pressure, yes he made a few mistakes, but he did quite well for Super Aguri.

  17. I’ve heard the entire Super Aguri team was en route to Spain as of yesterday. So things are looking up.

    Having met Takuma Sato at Autosport 2007, I can confirm that he has a great personality. He seems to be just right for Super Aguri – becoming a team leader at a team which welcomes his approach to racing suits him – all he needs now is for Super Aguri to get enough money to build him a good car.

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