On This Day in #F1: 23rd February 1953 – Nakajima-san – It’s all in the numbers

Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio

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

1707No these aren’t the co-ordinates to a secret stash of gold – nor are they the combination that unlocks the riches in TheJudge’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.


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.

One response to “On This Day in #F1: 23rd February 1953 – Nakajima-san – It’s all in the numbers

  1. It’s interesting, watching that video of Nakajima, how disparaging of pull rod suspensions current commenters are. Really, except for the high noses we see today, the pull rod is the much more elegant solution, with tension much easier to handle than compression. And this sort of introduces a topic dear to my heart: the lack of engineering understanding with current fans. This is what F1 is really about, the pinnacle of engineering thought.

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