Toyota link helps steer Nakajima to Williams job

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The Independent Online

The fact that Sir Frank Williams preferred rookie Kazuki Nakajima to established racer Tonio Liuzzi as partner to Nico Rosberg for 2008 is an indication of the once great British team's need to observe financial realities.

To date the 22-year-old Japanese driver has finished on the podium once in the GP2 junior category; Liuzzi won its equivalent, the F3000 series, by dominating in 2004. But Nakajima is a Toyota driver, and therein lies the truth behind his selection: as an independent at a time when manufacturer-supported teams are doing all the winning, Williams have to do all they can to please the company that lease them engines.

For the young racer, a wheel turned full circle in Brazil last October as he made his grand prix debut with the team as the replacement for Austrian Alex Wurz. Nakajima's father, Satoru, himself a Honda protégé, raced in F1 in the Eighties and Nineties for Lotus and Tyrrell.

"I think it was not the best way to follow him, I have to have my own identity," the younger Nakajima says. "But my brother has just started racing, and he is with Honda."

Despite his father's career, it was his own decision to start racing, and it took a while to get into his blood. "I was really enjoying driving karts. But it was still just for fun, not for my future career. Then when I was in high school I had a chance to join a racing school which was run by Toyota, and for which there was a chance I could win a scholarship for Formula Toyota.

"I tried once, and failed. I was not good enough and also I think my mind was not ready to fit into that situation, it was not 100 per cent focused on the future."

Subsequently, however, he changed that mind-set and became more focused. "I began thinking about the future, and I tried the school again and won the scholarship."

Clinching the Formula Toyota Championship in 2003 set him on his way, and was followed by Formula Three and then GP2 last year. When the chance arose to work with Williams as test driver this year, he made the most of the opportunity.

"For me it was not too difficult to fit in, and also I got a lot of help from the engineers. Even for GP2 I could get help, I could ask their advice. I just tried to make the most of my situation."