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NIPPONIA No.29 June 15, 2004

cover interview
Formula 1 Driver Speeds All Over the Globe
Written by Tsuchiya Komei, Photo by Matsumoto Hiroaki

"This year, there are 18 Formula 1 races. The second half of the season includes a Grand Prix in China and in Japan. It's great that the Formula 1 is being held in Asia as well," says Sato Takuma.

The Formula 1 Grand Prix stands at the top of the motor sport world. Only about 20 drivers can compete, and the winner becomes the fastest racer in the world. This year, Sato Takuma (27) is competing in the Formula 1 as a regular driver for the Lucky Strike BAR-Honda team, attracting wide-eyed attention from many racing fans.
"I was 10 when I first watched a Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix race from the stands. I was bowled over, and I've been fascinated by motor sports ever since. It was in my dreams to become a Formula 1 driver some day, and now I'm living the dream. I'm really happy."
Many Formula 1 drivers undergo a special training program when they are young, but not Sato. He began competitive racing on a bicycle when he was in high school, and only got his driver's license when he was 18. He was already 19 when he took his first step as a car racer, driving a racing cart.
"When I was a teenager and a bit younger, I looked on bicycles the way many people look on cars. I heard about the Suzuka Racing School when I was 19, and that made me start wanting to get into the Formula 1. At the time I said to myself, 'I'll give it a try, and if I can't do it I'll go on to something else.' But deep inside, I was sure I'd be able to do it."
Sato's skills behind the wheel grew by leaps and bounds, just as he hoped. In 1997, he graduated from the Suzuka Racing School at the top of his class. The next year, he found himself in the Japanese Formula 3 championship. Soon after, he went to the U.K. In 2000, he competed in the British Formula 3 championship, placing first four times to win the third spot for the series. In 2001, he placed first 12 times out of 26 races, becoming a series champion—the first time ever for a Japanese driver. In the 2002 Formula 1 season, he competed with the Jordan Honda team, and then at the last Grand Prix, in Japan, he came in fifth. This brought his fans to a fever pitch of excitement all around over the country.
"The British Formula 3 can open the door to the Formula 1. A lot of eyes are on you at the British event, and winning there can take you to the Formula 1. So I knew that the U.K. was going to make or break me."
Sato now lives in the U.K., and travels from there to races all over the world.
"My goals for this year? To beat my personal bests: currently seventh in qualifying rounds, and fifth place in the championships. And to compete against the top three teams and come in fourth best team for the year. Of course, some day I want to take my place on the Formula 1 winners' platform, and eventually, to stand there in first place."

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