One to watch: Kazuki Nakajima

One To Watch

Saturo Nakajima, Kazuki Nakajima, Hungaroring, 2007 | LAT Photographic / Glenn DunbarHis father Saturo was an F1 driver in the ’80s and ’90s and always close to Honda.

But Kazuki has 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.

He’s got a reputation for being a bit wild – but he’s landed a plum testing role for Williams nevertheless. How good is Kazuki Nakajima?

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 (since 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.

Kazuki Nakajima, Montreal, Williams-Toyota, 2007 | LAT Photographic / Glenn DunbarIn a year when test drivers have seen far less mileage than they have previously, Nakajima has had a lot more testing to do than many other drivers in the same role at other teams. But is that a result of his skill or Toyota’s backing? After all, race driver Alexander Wurz’s technical feedback is highly praised.

His reputation for speed and occasional wildness has followed him into GP2 where he races for the DAMS team. After a slow start to the season he hit his stride with a string of 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.

He is currently fifth in the championship, but notably well clear of team mate Nicolas Lapierre, who is in his third season of GP2.

With his connections, his surname, and three Japanese teams in Formula One, the younger Nakajima looks like a good bet for an F1 start in the near future.

Perhaps he even has an outside chance of replacing Ralf Schumacher?

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Photos: LAT Photographic / Glenn Dunbar

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