Like many others before him, Kazuki Nakajima was inspired to take up motorsport by his father's exploits. Like those before him, only time will tell whether he deserves to have made it to the top flight.Read more
Father Satoru arrived in Formula One courtesy of Honda’s involvement, finding a berth at Lotus for 1987 and staying for a couple of years before his ties to the manufacturer led to him winding up at Tyrrell before Honda’s ultimately fruitless plans to build and race its own cars saw Nakajima’s career peter out.
Kazuki, meanwhile, began racing at the age of eleven in 1996, several years after dad had left the top flight, but very much while he was running his successful team in the Japanese national FNippon and GT categories.
Nakajima Jr's first steps came, as with most future stars, in karting and it only took a handful of seasons for success to arrive, as he claimed the Suzuka Formula ICA title in 1999, aged just 14.
Unable to move up to cars at that point, Nakajima had to wait until 2002 to make his debut at the next level, running in the Japanese Formula Toyota series, learning the ropes for a successful championship assault the following year.
The title led to Nakajima Jr graduating to the national F3 series – but with Toyota tuner TOM's. The alliance was not just by chance, however, for Nakajima had jumped at the opportunity to join the manufacturer's driver development scheme in a deliberate attempt to escape suggestions that dad was pushing his career. TOM's was also a strong team and guided Kazuki to two race wins and four podiums, as well as fifth in the points.
Remaining on board for a second season, the more experienced Nakajima provided the greatest opposition to Brazilian interloper Joao Paolo de Oliveira, but had to settle for second overall, adding another brace of victories to his tally, as he dovetailed the campaign with a handful of GT300 sportscar outings.
Fifth place in the season-ending Macau F3 Grand Prix built on solid showings in the previous year's internationals and brought Nakajima to the wider attention of European teams, with Manor Motorsport the one to secure his services for the 2006 F3 Euroseries – despite running Mercedes engines.
After starting the year strongly, with second place in the first race and a win in round four, Nakajima's form drifted and he ended the season only seventh in points behind eventual champion Paul di Resta and future F1 rival Sebastian Vettel. His links with Toyota continued to work, however, and he was appointed as an official test driver with the Williams team, which has signed terms to use the Japanese marque's powerplants the following season. The deal saw Nakajima gains his first F1 experience at the wheel of a Williams at Fuji later that same month.
Despite perhaps being a contender for the 2007 F3 Euroseries title, those behind Toyota's development scheme opted to move Kazuki up another level, to contest the third season of GP2 with the French DAMS team.
Rough edges were evident from the start, with strong race performances littered with wayward moments, not least punting Ho-Pin Tung off the road at a restart in Bahrain and being found guilty of a similar misdemeanour when Karun Chandhok was unceremoniously removed from the lead in Turkey. Despite that, however, Nakajima's form improved as the year wore on, with five consecutive podiums seeing him end the year as leading newcomer and fifth in the championship - comfortably ahead of vastly more experienced DAMS team-mate Nicolas Lapierre.
With Alex Wurz promoted to a race seat at Williams for 2007, Kazuki was the team's de facto reserve and, when the Austrian announced his retirement from the sport ahead of the final round at Interlagos, the Nakajima name returned to the top flight grid.
Williams denied that the race was an official trial for the vacancy alongside Nico Rosberg for 2008, but there is little doubt that there would have been pressure from Toyota to promote from within. The Brazilian debut mirrored Nakajima's GP2 campaign, with tenth place and fifth fastest lap the highs - but a pit-lane collision that injured crew members was the more memorable image.
Despite that, Nakajima had done enough to fend off apparent suitors for the Williams seat for 2008 and will start the season alongside third year driver Rosberg in one of the more inexperienced line-ups on the grid.
Nakajima began his new challenge in familiar style, displaying strong pace on his grand prix debut Down Under in Melbourne to finish a highly commendable sixth from 13th on the grid, surviving a race of attrition but betraying his wild side along the way once more in colliding with BMW-Sauber’s Robert Kubica, in so doing putting the Pole out of the race.
There would be further points from gutsy drives at Barcelona, Monaco, Silverstone and Singapore, but the Japanese ace generally struggled to keep pace with team-mate Rosberg in qualifying, trailing his German colleague four to 14 on Saturday afternoons and only once making it through to the top ten Q3 shoot-out, in Singapore, compared to seven appearances by the sister Williams.
That would be to paint a somewhat unfair picture of Nakajima’s season, though, as he was rarely too far adrift of Rosberg – a man touted as a potential grand prix winner or perhaps even better in the right machinery – despite lacking in experience, and contributed more than a third of the points total to the Grove-based outfit’s cause.
Whilst some had uncharitably suggested that Kazuki had been given his F1 debut on the strength of his Toyota ties, he proved those cynics wrong in 2008. If he admittedly demonstrated little evidence of world-beating potential, he at least did enough to convince the squad to keep him on-board for a second consecutive season alongside Rosberg in 2009, but the year was bring its own pressures.
Although the FW31 showed potential, and was among the few fitted with a double diffuser from the very start of the year, only Rosberg appeared capable of getting results. A srtring of finishes outside the top ten - he had two ninth-place results - were interspersed with retirements as Nakajima failed to trouble the scorers and, if not already in doubt, his path to the exit at Grove was hastened by the team ending its relationship with Toyota ahead of the Japanese giant's decision to quit F1 altogether.
Ironically, Nakajima's ties to Toyota may yet keep him inn the top flight as, even though there were no takers for his services in 2010, he remains connected to a possible seat at the nascent Stefan GP project, which has bought the still-born TF110 and moved into part of Toyota's former Cologne base. The team continues to wait for developments at USF1 and Campos Meta, but remains hopeful that it may be granted a late entry.