Tsunoda on his way to F1: Which Japanese drivers preceded him?

21-11-2020 11:46
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Tsunoda on his way to F1: Which Japanese drivers preceded him?

It seems more and more certain that we will see a Japanese Formula 1 driver on the grid again in 2021. Yuki Tsunoda is in the spotlight to succeed Daniil Kvyat at AlphaTauri. But which Japanese drivers preceded him?

Even though Japan is a traditional motorsport country, the country has produced only 20 Formula 1 drivers. Most of the previous Japanese drivers struggled to find success in F1: the Japanese flag has only been seen on an F1 podium three times and they're still without a race win. 

Early years

The first Japanese driver ever to start an F1 race was Hiroshi Fushida. He qualified for the 1975 Dutch Grand Prix but never started due to engine problems. In the 1970s, a few more Japanese drivers followed. 

Satoru Nakajima was the first Japanese Formula 1 driver to compete in a full season. He entered the sport in 1987 as the teammate of Ayrton Senna at Team Lotus. In total, he drove 80 Grands Prix, of which he started 74, in a five-year F1 career.

Long-awaited podium

The first Japanese driver to step on the F1 podium was in 1990. Aguri Suzuki managed to give the Japanese fans a long-awaited podium in his home race at Suzuka. Lola's driver came in third. Suzuki would start a total of 65 races and in 2006 formed his own Formula 1 team: Super Aguri.

The most successful Japanese driver

After Aguri, some lesser-known Japanese drivers in Formula 1 followed and the country had to wait for Takuma Sato before another podium was scored. Sato is perhaps the most famous and most successful Formula 1 driver to come from the Land of the Rising Sun. The driver from Tokyo registered 92 Grands Prix and started 90 times. He achieved his only podium at the United States Grand Prix. The United States was also Sato's destination after his F1 career. He is incredibly successful in the IndyCar Series. He now has six wins there, two of which were during the prestigious Indy500.

Wait six years

Kazuki Nakajima drove two seasons for Williams in 2008 and 2009 but never got further than sixth place. The lastest Japanese to drive in F1 is Kamui Kobayashi. He entered F1 as a substitute for an injured Timo Glock at Toyota. When that team left F1, he was picked up by Sauber. He also managed to score a podium for Japan in his home country. Kobayashi drove his last F1 race in 2014 and this was also the last time that a Japanese driver was at the start of a Formula 1 race.

This article was originally published on the Dutch version of GPblog and was written by Bonne Veenstra 

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