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Unlike most of his rivals, Takuma had his first experience of motor racing at a relatively late age. indeed as a youngster Takuma preferred racing bicycles, and eventually moved to racing karts just a few years ago.

In 1996, he scraped together what money he had to buy a kart and, the following year, entered Honda's Suzuka Racing School scholarship. He won the prize, a fully paid drive in the 1998 All-Japan Formula 3 Championship, but passed it up in order to pursue his desire of reaching Formula One, to do that he had to go to Europe.

Arriving in mid-1998, he contested a handful of Formula Vauxhall Junior races, mainly with the small Diamond Racing team, then at the end of the year graduated with Diamond to Formula Opel. In '99, his first full year of car racing, he took sixth place in the hotly contested EFDA Formula Opel Euroseries, and also competed in the last few rounds of the British F3 Championship in Class B.

Sato joined Carlin Motorsport for 2000 to compete in the F3 'A' class, winning a total of five races and taking third place in the British championship. By now he had been noticed by Grand Prix teams, and in December got his first F1 tests with Jordan and British American Racing. BAR signed him as a test driver for 2001, at which time he also became contracted to Honda.

Remaining in British F3 for 2001, Sato started the season as clear favourite for the title, with good reason. He sped to 12 wins, as well as victories in the Marlboro Masters at Zandvoort and the international F3 race supporting the British Grand Prix. Combined with his successes in 2000, Sato broke the record for wins in the British F3 Championship. He also impressed with his test outings for BAR.

Much was expected of Takuma in 2002 however, often through no fault of his own, he made his mark on F1 in quite the wrong way.

Of course having Giancarlo Fisichella as his 'benchmark' didn't help, but then neither do the statistics which record the Japanese driver as having more than his fair share of accidents. Things got off to a bad start when he collided with his team-mate on the second lap of the Malaysian GP.

After a few races, and particularly in light of the fact that Jordan had seen fit to reduce its workforce in order to cut costs, it was feared Takuma might not see out the season, especially when team boss Eddie Jordan started adding up the cost of the Japanese youngster's many crashes.

Admittedly, on several occasions Takuma was the innocent victim, most noticeably the horrendous accident in Austria involving Heidfeld and the 'misunderstanding' with Raikkonen at Monza. The manner in which the little Japanese star subsequently marched down to the McLaren pit to confront the Finn along with Ron Dennis and Norbert Haug earned him much respect.

In Japan, his home race, it all came together and Takuma took a well-earned fifth place, thus earning his employer several million in prize money.

Unfortunately it was too little too late. Although Jordan was keen to keep Takuma, it needed a driver who could bring sponsorship money to the team and with Honda now focussing on BAR the result was inevitable.

For 2003 Takuma went to BAR as reserve and test driver, indeed had he been available when Jenson Button crashed in practice for the Monaco GP, Takuma could have returned to F1 even earlier than planned.

As it is, when Takuma was unveiled as the Brackley team's second driver for 2004 and Jacques Villeneuve promptly withdrew from the final race of the season - the Japanese driver was hurriedly drafted in for a dramatic return to the cockpit. One year after taking an emotional fifth in the Jordan, Takuma brought his BAR home behind team-mate Button to give the Brackley team fifth in the Constructors' Championship.

If Jenson Button had much to prove in 2004, so too did Takuma, and though the diminutive Japanese driver didn't quite reach the dizzy heights of his teammate, he did give a pretty good account of himself.

At the end of 2004 we wrote: "What is most noticeable, certainly compared to his teammate's ultra-smooth style, is that little Takuma is all or nothing, which is a delight for race fans but a source of frustration to his employers. The Japanese driver also appears to be particularly hard on his engines, suffering a disproportionate number of failures".

And it was pretty much the same scenario in 2005. He can be a delight to watch, but he is often his own worst enemy.

Sometimes his enthusiasm costs him, particularly in qualifying, but he usually makes up for it in the race, with some very brave overtaking moves, and some very, very late braking. However, overall, his performances are hit and miss, with the emphasis on 'hit'.

That said, in 2005, Takuma was clearly not helped by the BAR's lack of pace. At Imola he performed well, while who will ever forget the sight of him colliding with Michael Schumacher at Spa?

With Barrichello signed to join BAR, as was, for 2006, it looked as though Takuma's Grand Prix career might be coming to an early end. He was too closely associated with Honda to be seriously considered by rival teams, and the Japanese driver was unwilling to accept a test driver role.

Ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix there was talk of Honda helping to create a new Japanese team which would feature Sato, but much of this was dismissed as media spin in an attempt to placate local race fans.

However, over time the rumours persisted, and finally the new team had a name, Super Aguri Formula 1, led by former F1 driver, Aguri Suzuki.

Little-by-little a plan emerged, with Suzuki announcing that his team would begin the 2006 season with the 2002 Arrows A23 - the chassis and IP rights having been purchased from Paul Stoddart - with a self-penned chassis due to make its debut later in the year.

Due to the speed with which the whole Super Aguri project was put together, there was no time for pre-season testing, indeed, Aguri Suzuki was later to refer to the 2006 season as "one long test". Needless to say, Takuma made full use of every minute he had in the car, and after the first three race weekends of the season he had completed more laps than anyone else.

The Japanese team finally introduced its own chassis in time for the German GP, and though it was no major leap forward, it offered hope.

Throughout it all, Takuma kept his head down, giving all he could, clearly appreciating that it was this or nothing. Quite how he felt as he watched Jenson Button dominate the latter stages of the season in the Honda one can only imagine, however, Takuma kept going, refusing to be beaten.

Fact is, Takuma probably made more of an impression on the inhabitants of Planet Paddock during that season than he ever had before, and few were left unmoved by his attitude and perseverance. Tenth place in the Brazilian GP was celebrated as if the team had won the race, and quite rightly so.

For 2007, Takuma was retained by Super Aguri, teaming up with former (Carlin) F3 teammate Anthony Davidson.

The Super Aguri team of 2007 was almost unrecognisable from the 2006 version, looking far more organised and better prepared for the battle ahead. The SA07 - essentially the Honda RA106 which had been so successful in the latter stages of the previous season, coupled with the introduction of a sole-tyre supplier suited the team and Takuma.

The season got off to the best possible start with Takuma qualifying tenth in Melbourne, though he could only finish twelfth in the race. A few weeks later Takuma scored his team's first ever World Championship point, adding three more in Canada.

Sadly, having been let down by its primary sponsor, the team struggled in the second half of the season, and with the Leafield outfield unable to continue development, Takuma failed to add to his tally.

That said, it was good while it lasted, and there were several occasions during the season when we were reminded why we all have a soft spot for Taku, and indeed his team.

Going into 2008, money - or the lack of it - continues to be a problem for Super Aguri, and though the team is adamant that it will be on the grid in Melbourne, the dearth of pre-season testing, not to mention the fact that it will be using the (awful) RA107 means that Takuma will be facing a difficult season. He deserves better.

Statistics - Prior to 2009 Season

Drivers' Titles: 0
Seasons in F1: 7
Grand Prix: 104
Wins: 0
Points: 44
Poles: 0
Fastest Laps: 0

Best result in 2008: 13th (Spain)
Best qualifying 2008: 20th (2 times)
Worst qualifying 2008: 22nd (2 times)
Average grid position 2008: 21
2008: Out-qualified Anthony Davidson 2 times
2008: Out-qualified by Anthony Davidson 2 times

2008: Completed 207 out of 237 laps (87.3%)
2008: Finished 3 times from 4 starts (75%)


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