Sebastien Buemi, Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima, Toyota, Spa-Francorchamps, WEC, 2018

Kazuki Nakajima

Kazuki Nakajima’s father Satoru was an F1 driver in the ’80s and ’90s and always close to Honda.

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But Kazuki forged close connections with Honda’s arch rival Toyota – partly to avoid any suggestion that his ascent through the lower categories has come because of his surname.

Kazuki was born on January 11th, 1985 in Aichi, Japan. He formed his connection with Toyota when he moved out of karts into Formula Toyota in 2003, winning the championship.

That led to a season in Japanese Formula Three with the TOM’S team. He also briefly raced in Formula Renault before he turned 17 – the minimum age at which drivers can race in Japan.

He finished fifth in the Japanese F3 championship where his team mates were Richard Antinucci and Sakon Yamamoto (later an F1 driver for Super Aguri and Spyker). After winning the first two rounds of the season he never won again, but beat Yamamoto in the championship.

He stayed in Japanese F3 for another year, finishing second overall in 2005 behind Joao de Oliviera, a long established F3 talent. He also raced in the Japanese GT300 series, ending the year eighth.

Then came the inevitable move to Europe, to contest the 2006 F3 Euroseries with Manor Motorsport. The year began brightly, with second in the opening round at Hockenheim followed by a win in round four at Eurospeedway Lausitz.

But thereafter his campaign trailed off, and a double DNF in the final two rounds left him seventh in the championship. Team mates Kohei Hirate and Esteban Guerrieri finished the season third and fourth.

Nonetheless Nakajima moved up to GP2 for 2007 and became test driver for the Toyota-supplied Williams team.

His reputation for speed and occasional wildness followed him into GP2. After a slow start to the season he hit his stride with five consecutive podium finishes in the middle of the season.

But he threw away a shot at victory in the sprint race at Istanbul with an ill-judged lunge at race leader Karun Chandhok that ruined both their races.

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Nonetheless he was the highest-placed rookie, ending the year fifth overall, and though he didn’t win a race he beat team mate Nicolas Lapierre, who was in the category for the third year.

He also completed 7,000km of testing for Williams. When their regular driver Alexander Wurz stepped down one race before the end of the season, Nakajima was promoted into his place for the Brazilian Grand Prix. He had a mixed weekend, qualifying poorly but making several good passes in the race, but spoiling his performance by hitting his pit crew.

His first race of 2008 got off to a similarly inauspicious start when he crashed into Robert Kubica during a Safety Car period. From that point on Nakajima seemed to calm down and picked up several points with calm, consistent driving.

Despite showing some promise in 2008, Nakajima was conclusively out-classed by team mate Nico Rosberg in 2009. Nakajima never finished better than ninth, and all of Williams’ points were scored by Rosberg.

With Toyota leaving the sport at the end of the year, there was little surprise when Nakajima was dropped by Williams.

He enjoyed more success in his post-Formula 1 career. He switched to Japan’s Formula Nippon series (later known as Super Formula) and finished runner-up to Andre Lotterer in his first season. He took the title at his next attempt in 2012 and followed it up with a second two years later.

In addition to outings in Super GT, Nakajima also appeared for Toyota in the World Endurance Championship. He came heartbreakingly close to delivering the manufacturer’s long-awaited first Le Mans 24 Hours victory in 2016, his TS050 losing while while leading with six minutes to go, robbing Nakajima, Anthony Davidson and Sebastien Buemi of victory.

That defeat was avenged two years later when Nakajima shared victory with Buemi and new team mate Fernando Alonso. It proved the first of three consecutive wins for Nakajima in the classic endurance race.

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