The Unlikely Lads Part 2 – Kazuki Nakajima

Following on from my un-ground breaking first post on the un-likely lads we thought we’d keep it current-ish again, while there are a lot of tragic attempts at F1 teams in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s (Im looking at you Mastercard Lola) the last 20 or so years has seen professional teams backed with millions of either oil, tobacco or motor car manufacture cash. Today we take a look at one of their worst excesses: Kazuki Nakajima.

Kazuki Nakajima – Japan – 36 Races – 9 Points – 2007 – 2009
Kazuki Nakajima 2009 Motorsport Japan 1.jpg

Kazuki hailing from Okazaki in Japan raced in various forms of motor sport around his native country before beating the long trodden path to Europe to join the Formula Three Euroseries for Manor Motorsport (who now run Marussia). His 2006 maiden campaign of 20 races yielded one win and 36 points on the way to 7th in the overall standings, now in today’s post credit crunch era that would warrant generally another season at that level to hopefully push forward in 2007. However blissfully unaware of the impending fiscal doom approaching the world Toyota picked up Kazuki and got him a drive in GP2 alongside the test driver role at Williams where they using their engines.

His 2007 produced a so-so effort with 6 podiums (including a second place in Hungary in a retirement filled main race) on his way 5th for the championship, behind Timo Glock, Lucas Di Grassi, Giorgio Pantano and Luca Filippi. But his mid-season purple patch that produce 5 rostrums on the trot impressed his pay masters in Japan enough to push for him to get a drive with Williams the following year and the retiring Alex Wurz was removed for the last race of the season to make way for the Japanese youngster.

The Big Time

His big opportunity came at Bahrain in 2007 and he produced a solid enough race to finish 10th despite running over his pit crew. 2008 followed and partnered with Nico Rosberg (the driver that Williams chose) he delivered 9 points to his team mates 17 although he couldn’t match the heights that the German would produce with a second and third place trophy for his cabinet. Now if the story ended here there would be cries that I was being too harsh on the man and that it was a decent début season including shining results at street circuits (points in Monaco and an appearance in Q3 at Singapore). This is all true enough but despite his surprisingly decent start to his F1 career would turn out to be quite like his GP2 purple patch, a brief showing of decentness before 2009 and the new rules beckoned.

2009 The New Era

In 2009 the F1 landscape changed as the aerodynamic rules were completely changed, massively cutting down on extra wings on the cars and reducing the aerodynamic wake they produced. For this new era Toyota stuck with their driver line-up and dumped Kazuki again on their customer team. Williams unfortunately weren’t one of the teams that arrived in Australia with that years must have device, the double diffuser, which would power Brawn GP to their only title in their only season. However in a season that included Luca Badoer the real horror show was the man from Japan with Toyota Yen, Kazuki Nakajima.

Paired again with Nico Rosberg the Williams was a solid package and the German drove it 7th in the standings and picking up 34.5 points (half points being awarded in that washout in Malaysia), in response to this Nakajima scored………. 0, nil, nothing. Now this was before the new points bonanza system and the two 9th place finished and a 10th would of given him 5 points but that still doesn’t defend his total.

The realisation quickly dawned on Toyota that spending all this money was getting them nowhere, their budget was rumoured to be at 400 million Euro a season! But they had stumbled across a better driver by accident, Kamui Kobayashi who raced as a stand in for Timo Glock in the last two rounds outscoring Kazuki with 3 points for the season. Kazuki finished last of the drivers who completed an entire season and was the only one to be pointless.

Onwards

After the fiscal collapse in 2008 Toyota pulled the plugs on their F1 team completely despite having a car designed for 2010, which was tested by Kazuki and was used for a period of time by Pirelli. Unsurprisingly there were no takers for Kamui’s services in F1 and thus he had to pick a new career post F1.

As with our first unlikely lad his post F1 career choice didnt pick one of the five paths that are deemed acceptable substitutes for F1 drives. Kazuki returned to his native homeland and raced in…… Formula Nippon which he won in 2012 at the second time of trying. Formula Nippon being the equivalent of British Formula 3. He wasn’t yet done with Toyota’s bottomless pit of cash and despite lacking any discernible career highlights he was picked to drive at the 24 hours of Le Mans for the manufacturer. However it ended in a DNF and Kazuki has been conspicuously absent from their serious 2013 LeMans efforts despite them needing 6 drivers to complete their 2 car line up.

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