On This Day in #F1: 23rd February

Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio

– 1953: Nakajima – It’s all in the numbers

3.8 – 3.7 – 5.2 – 5.1 – 8.2 – 3.6 – 2.5 – 3.9 – 3.9 – 3.3 – 3.2 – 3.9 – 4.0 – 3.2 – 0.9 – 2.4

Nakajima 1707No these aren’t the co-ordinates to a secret stash of gold – nor are they the combination that unlocks the riches in TJ’s safe! The numbers are in fact the difference in qualifying lap-times between Ayrton Senna and his Japanese team-mate – Satoru Nakajima – throughout the 1987 season.

Nakajima was Honda’s favoured son and had won five out of the six previous Formula Two titles in Japan using Honda engines. Throughout 1985 he spent many days testing a Williams-Honda extensively but at 34 years of age he was an old debutant and many questioned his actual ability.

Towards the end of 1985. Honda asked Frank Williams if he would replace Nigel Mansell with their protege Nakajima. Williams, no doubt, nodded politely and refused their request – as what had always been important to him was the Constructors title and he reasoned that Nakajima would struggle.

Before the 1986 season had even begun, Ayrton Senna realised that Renault was no longer a technical force and demanded that Lotus acquire the Honda engine for the subsequent season otherwise he would leave.

Peter Warr had little option. In signing Dumfries to Lotus for 1986 he had already acquiesced to Senna’s demands and he began his preparations for the 1987 season.

The British press were still disparaging towards Senna; Warwick had been refused a seat at Lotus and now Johnny Dumfries – another Brit – was being replaced by an oriental they had never heard of. In some quarters Nakajima was rechristened Knacker-Johnny.

In Japan, yellow is considered a warrior colour. This dates back to the ‘War of Dynasty’ in 1357 when each warrior wore a yellow chrysanthemum as a pledge of courage and could well contribute to the adoration of Senna in Japan.


Nakajima finished his debut race in 7th, scored points for sixth and fifth in the subsequent races and finished fourth in Britain. At Suzuka, a circuit he knew intimately he qualified less than a second away from Senna and finished sixth.

In 1988 he was generally beaten by his team-mate triple World Champion Piquet; although on occasion he surprised with his comparable pace in qualifying.

The following season saw an explosion of hatred between the main championship protagonists and in the background the death knell began chiming for the remains of the once proud Lotus team. Possibly the saddest moment of this season was Lotus failing to qualify either car for the 1989 Belgian race.

A rain soaked Adelaide that year was deemed too perilous by the drivers but as always their cries fell on deaf ears. Prost withdrew after the first lap and the over-riding image from TV was Senna emerging from the spray as he rammed into the rear of Martin Brundle’s Brabham – unsighted.

Following a spin, Nakajima had finished the first lap in last place but his driving today was inspired – to the point that his harshest critics became his biggest fans. He would set fastest lap on his drive through to fourth.

Over the course of five seasons Honda’s nepotism failed to bring in results and Nakajima quietly retired back to the Land of the Rising Sun.

8 responses to “On This Day in #F1: 23rd February

  1. I remember Satoru and that yellow Lotus, It was when I started to became a F1 fan.

    I’ve no idea someone (even Senna) could be 8.2 sec faster than a teammate with same equipment (really same?).

  2. I knew when I started writing this that the gaps between them were around 3.5 seconds a lap during 1987 but I must admit I was staggered by this margin.

    Senna qualified second with the active suspension Lotus at the 1987 Detroit Grand Prix in 1’40.607. Nakajima qualified 24th with 1’48.801. There would have been absolute parity between the cars. But if one was to have any more advantageous power it would have gone to Honda’s favored son.

    People always speak of Senna out-qualifying Prost at Monaco in 1988 by 1.4 seconds because he spoke about his experience of transcending his body, but if you look at his performance in Detroit in 1988 he was also 1.4 seconds quicker there… and Prost was a two times World Champion!

    Senna in qualifying was unlike any other driver I have ever seen. Even in 1985 at the European GP, he out-qualified Elio De Angelis by 2.8 seconds

    • Definitely the best qualifier, Carlo. Looking at who has the most poles in each season (new pole trophy), already there is a clear top 6, of triple winners at least: Fangio, Clark, Senna, Schumacher, Hamilton, Vettel.. and 2014 could again be a Hamilton year..

  3. There is a Ayrton Senna/Roland Ratzenberger tribute at the Imola circuit from May 1-4, organised by the city of Imola and the Ayrton Senna foundation, led by Ayrton’s sister Viviane.
    The Williams team will be there as will McLaren.
    Rete Globo, Fuji Television and RAI will also be present and have made documentaries with rare footage.
    Some Italian media are trying to get permission to live stream the event, any info that I can find on that, I will of course share.


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