‘Sato has crashed!!’, ‘Sato has taken him out!!’, ‘Sato has gone off the track!!’, ‘Sato’s engine has blown up!!’
Japanese driver Takuma Sato, who raced in Formula 1 between 2002-2008 enjoys a cult status amongst many Formula 1 fans. Sample this- a fair number of drivers have had teams built around them. Michael Schumacher at Ferrari, Jacques Villeneuve at BAR Honda and Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull are examples that spring to mind. But, how many drivers have had a team built from scratch for them? Super Aguri, the Formula 1 team founded (or financed) by Honda was a team that existed primarily to extend Takuma Sato’s F1 career and keep peace with his passionate fans. The team existed between 2006-2008 though it withdrew midway through the 2008 season due to financial troubles.
We look at the life and times of Takuma Sato a.k.a ‘car breaker’ in Formula 1.
On a good day, Takuma Sato was a quick, competitive and tenacious driver. However, on other days his driving was described as ragged, unpolished and error prone. There were even suggestions, during his BAR Honda days that his driving style led to engine failures. But, the entertainment value of having Sato race was sufficient for his fans to warrant him a place in F1.
Sato, who now races in Indycar in the U.S, first appeared as a driver in 2002 for Jordan Honda. His seat was probably a result of Jordan team boss Eddie Jordan’s efforts to convince engine supplier Honda to a long-term deal with his team. In 2003, Honda instead decided to focus on the BAR team (British American Racing, promoted by the tobacco giant British American Tobacco). Honda’s move saw Sato slotting into a BAR Honda test seat. The year saw Sato race once at his home grand prix at Japan and he took a well-earned 6th place. This was his 2nd consecutive points finish in Japan (the first being with Jordan) and catapulted Sato to the limelight in Japan and much of the world.
In 2004, Sato was promoted to a race seat at BAR Honda alongside Jenson Button. For Japanese fans, a Japanese driver in a team with heavy Japanese involvement was a welcome move and Honda earned praise back home for this decision. However, Sato stayed true to form and displayed aggressive driving which was at times blighted by engine failures (he suffered no less than 6 engine blowouts) and sometimes rash driving. His team mate Button in contrast, had a stellar season notching up 9 podiums and several points finishes. This was enough to propel BAR Honda to the 2nd position in the constructors championship. Sato, in comparison had a single podium and was relegated to the 8th position in the drivers championship. There were rumors in the season that the BAR Honda car was more suited to Button’s smooth style of driving and this was causing Sato positions in the championship. Sato, however never acknowledged or spoke about the matter and instead focused on letting his driving do the talking.
The year was also notable for the spectacular engine blowouts suffered by Sato including the famous incident at the Monaco GP when the smoke from Sato’s engine blowout caught out McLaren’s David Coulthard and Sauber’s Giancarlo Fisichella ending both their races.
The US Grand Prix that year turned out to be something of a renaissance for Sato san who qualified and finished 3rd exhibiting some fine race craft notably against Jarno Trulli, Mark Webber, Giancarlo Fisichella and Michael Schumacher. In finishing 3rd, Sato became the 2nd Japanese driver to achieve an F1 podium finish.
The next year saw Sato being retained by BAR Honda but the team could not repeat the strong performance for most of the season. Sato ended the season scoring just one point which resulted in his contract not being renewed by the team for the next season. This decision of Honda also coincided with them taking complete ownership and control of the BAR Honda operation and converting the team into a full-fledged manufacturer backed one.
Sato’s removal from the Honda backed and now fully owned team was met with sharp criticism amongst fans in Japan. Another perceived slight was Honda’s move to buy out Jenson Button’s 2006 contract with Williams for a rumored $30 million and giving him a multi- year contract with the team.
Hectic back room negotiations resulted in the founding of the Super Aguri F1 team led by former Japanese F1 driver Aguri Suzuki after the end of the 2005 season. This was followed by the FIA’s approval in January 2006 to participate in the 2006 season. Honda, it is rumored paid the $48 million entrance fee to the FIA for the team. The Super Aguri operation was by now, a Honda ‘B’ team for most practical purposes and Takuma Sato was firmly installed as its undisputed lead driver.
With Super Aguri in 2006, Sato continued to impress and disappoint in equal measure, with a standout drive at that years Brazilian GP where he finished 10th– just shy of points.
In 2007, Sato stayed with the Super Aguri team which saw a jump in performance thanks to a better developed chassis. Sato scored the team’s first points at the Spanish Grand Prix. Another standout performance was exhibited at the Canadian Grand Prix when he rose to the 5th position from the end of the grid before dropping to 11th after a botched pit stop. Sato then powered his way to the 6th position earning huge rounds of applause from the fans at the track.
2008 saw the Super Aguri team struggling financially with funding from Honda drying up and sponsor money becoming insufficient to finance the operation. The team went belly up at the 4th race of the season and this ended Sato’s Formula 1 career.
However, the legend of Sato meant that he was considered for race seats at Toro Rosso, Team Lotus, Renault at various points of time. Though these did not fructify in a race seat, excitement from fans has been tremendous every time Sato was rumored as a contender for a race seat.
After Formula 1, Sato has raced in Formula E, Formula Nippon sporadically while focusing on the Indycar Series in the US where he has raced with A.J Foyt, Letterman Lanigan Racing and KV Technology. It was announced in late 2016 that he will be driving for the Andretti Autosport team in 2017.
We look at Takuma Sato’s famous on track incidents and overtaking maneuvers over his F1 years.
Sato’s first F1 incident was at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix when Nick Heidfeld crashed into him. The impact of the hit was so high that Sato’s car had to be cut open to help him out.
Sato’s Austrian GP exploits were followed by an encore at the very next race at Monaco when he lost control of his car while trying to let his team mate Giancarlo Fisichella pass!!
Incidentally, this was the 2nd time Sato was involved in an incident with his team mate in 2002; he had run into the rear of Fisichella’s car at the year’s Malaysian GP. Fortunately, both the cars were not affected and completed the race.
Overtakes at the 2007 Canadian GP on Fernando Alonso and Ralf Schumacher
2004 Monaco GP engine blowout
2004 US GP multiple overtakes that gave Sato his 1st F1 podium