Taki Inoue
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Last updated: 14-January-2011

Before Formula One Formula One After Formula One

Before F1

Dismissed even by compatriot Katayama

Born in Kobe, Japan, allegedly the son of a slot-machine magnate (though the man himself denies coming from a wealthy family), Takachiho Inoue had the unfortunate combination of being moneyed, not the most talented and Japanese. In Formula One terms, that he would be much-maligned was unfortunately his birthright.

Some cases in point, perhaps. This is the man whom even the oft-derided Ukyo Katayama dismissed as "rubbish". A former webpage called "The Bluffer's Guide to F1", which depicts the sport as one where the aim is to throw a car at a wall, as a result named Inoue as an example of the perfect F1 driver. When Johnny Herbert first tested the 1995 Benetton and was 2.5 seconds slower than Michael Schumacher, in hindsight he said he "felt like Taki Inoue or someone".


And the nasty comments continue - unfairly, perhaps?

Taki also used to have an "UnApPrEcIaTiOn PaGe" dedicated to him on the 'net. Furthermore, the renowned encyclopaedia of F1 drivers, the Grand Prix Who's Who, whilst generally giving praise to most pilots, is rather disdainful in its treatment of the hapless Inoue. Even Jackie Oliver, Taki's boss in 1995, supposedly joined in the criticism when he was quoted in Autocourse as describing Inoue's 1995 season thus: "His learning curve has been steep, but his performance very flat."

As a result, it would be easy to malign Inoue as one of the less-able Grand Prix drivers. But let Autosport in its 1995 review go in to bat for poor Taki: "he cheerfully accepted his limitations, although he would occasionally put in quite a respectable time on a circuit he knew."

Starting 19th on the grid, Inoue (car 33) was too slow to get caught up in the tradition first corner pile-up in the 1994 F3000 round at Enna in Sicily.
Starting 19th on the grid, Inoue (car 33 at bottom right) was too slow to get caught up in the traditional first corner pile-up in the 1994 F3000 round at Enna in Sicily.


Foray into Europe stalls after two seasons in FFord 1600; Sears makes it clear it's all about the funding

Right from the start Inoue did little to catch the eye. He raced in the Fuji Freshman touring car series in Japan in 1985 and 1986, before packing his bags in 1987 and heading for England, where he attended the Jim Russell Racing School at Snetterton. There, not only was language a barrier, but also the fact that he had never seen any of the British circuits before, and had not raced in a proper single-seater racing car before! That he merely got through the year with what money he had was an achievement in itself.

In 1988, though, he got together with David Sears Motorsport, and competed a full season of British Formula Ford 1600, where at least he got in around 25 races' worth of valuable experience. Taki says Sears had told him: "Money is racing. No money, no race. No dark area, no gray zone." He had then planned to progress into F3, but the team he approached wanted $625,000, money which he simply didn't have. As a result, he was left with no option but to return to Japan.


Improves gradually in Japanese F3 before he take the plunge into F3000

For the next few years, right through to the end of 1993, he raced in Japanese F3, improving with every season although solid results were still somewhat hard to come by. In 1992 he scored 2 fourth places and was 10th overall. He improved by one spot the next year, once again just missing out on the podium twice in his Dallara 393 Mugen. With 6 points, he was 9th overall in the 1993 championship, one spot ahead of Toranosuke Takagi in 10th.

In 1994, he managed to return to Europe and linked up with Sears again to drive in F3000 for the latter's Super Nova team, as team-mate to Vincenzo Sospiri. Driving a Reynard 94D Cosworth, Inoue consistently qualified in the lower midfield, and landed a best result of 9th at Estoril. By contrast Sospiri was in championship contention right to the end; sadly, Inoue did not score even a single point.

Formula One

Gets a test alongside Sospiri, but backing lands him a Suzuka berth

All this time, however, he had his eyes on F1, and he had talks with various financially-struggling teams. Prior to the Japanese Grand Prix, he held discussions with Larrousse, Footwork and Lotus. But in the end it was Simtek that offered both himself and Sospiri the opportunity to test at Barcelona. Inoue was immediately impressed by the light steering, but also by the need to keep pushing right from the out-lap to keep temperatures up.

One might have expected that with his better credentials Sospiri would have got the nod over Taki, but considering the all-important monetary factor, it was the man from Kobe who would make his Grand Prix debut in the Simtek S941 Ford at Suzuka. Local knowledge ought to have helped him, but after Friday qualifying he was some 3.4 seconds slower than team-mate David Brabham who was 24th, and 3.1 seconds behind fellow debutant Mika Salo in the Lotus.

Taki on his GP debut at Suzuka in the Simtek. It would rain for most of the weekend.
Taki on his GP debut at Suzuka in the Simtek. It would rain for most of the weekend. Picture thanks to ASAG.sk.


Not the easiest GP debut for Japan's Taki-san...

However, he had both the awful Pacifics behind him, but it was nevertheless clear that come Saturday Inoue would have to improve to assure himself of a place on the grid. But as luck would have it, five minutes before qualifying began, rain started falling, and Inoue was guaranteed a start for his first GP.

The bad news was that the rain continued pelting down on race-day. On the parade lap, Inoue's Simtek lost 5th gear, but in such appalling conditions he would hardly get to use it anyway. The rain was so hard it hit his helmet like stones. In the end, whilst trying to catch Michele Alboreto's Minardi at the end of the third lap, he found Herbert's Benetton beached in the gravel and Katayama's Tyrrell against the pit-wall. But in a split second he was aquaplaning, and found himself suffering the same fate as his countryman. His short debut was over.


Financial musical chairs allow for untaxed money to his team; but it's all legal!

Whilst Mimmo Schiattarella took the Simtek seat for the Australian GP, in 1995 Inoue was back having secured a deal with the Footwork Arrows team to drive their FA16 chassis with a Hart V8 engine. It was an expensive agreement, with Inoue having to pay US$1 million before he so much as sat in the car, before delivering another US$500,000 per month by selling sponsorship space on the car in his native Japan, to pay a total of US$4.5 million. Taki says: "I didn't feel any pressure from the racing itself, just the pressure from my payment schedule."

How he raised the money and maximised it required making use of some legal loopholes - something he claims most F1 drivers and teams employ. He set up companies in Japan and America, and also a British bank account linked to a Swiss bank. He would raise the money in Japan, have it transferred to the USA, and then to the British account. This was then automatically transferred to Switzerland, where the money wasn't taxed. Being a resident of Monaco meant he wasn't personally taxed either. All the money could then be pumped into the team.

Inoue gets out of his wrecked Arrows after being hit by the safety car whilst being towed back to the pits at Monaco in 1995.
Inoue gets out of his wrecked Arrows after being hit by the safety car whilst being towed back to the pits at Monaco in 1995.


Heavy fines follow Inoue spin; the gyrations continue

However, the rather result-less season he paid for sort of makes you wonder if it may have been all worth it. The shenanigans started in Brazil where he qualified 21st, before retiring at two-thirds distance with a fire. Then in Argentina, he spun in practice, and the Arrows team was fined $20,000 for not having a wheel-decoupling device as the regulations demanded. Inoue went on to qualify 26th and last, 10.2 seconds slower than team-mate Gianni Morbidelli and 14 seconds behind pole-sitter David Coulthard. In the race, he spun out.

At Imola he crashed early after starting a creditable 19th. Then in Spain he had another engine fire after starting a much-improved 18th. But then came Monaco, where in Saturday free practice he was faster than Morbidelli and pushing hard. But approaching the Mirabeau, he saw Heinz-Harald Frentzen's Sauber coming up behind and tried to let the German through, only to find he had a spongy brake pedal and was forced down the escape road where he stalled.


Hit and flipped by Ragnotti at the swimming pool; taken off by the Kat in France

Refusing to let the car be craned away, he asked for a tow which would allow him to compete in second qualifying. Being somewhat embarrassed, he put his helmet on but didn't do up his belts. As his car was taken through the swimming pool section, the session over, French rally ace Jean Ragnotti, taking the Renault Clio safety car out for a spin, clobbered into the back of his Footwork, taking off a chunk of Taki's helmet, and destroying the FA16 which rolled. Inoue was lucky to get away with only concussion. In the end he started the race last, but retired with a gearbox failure.

In Canada he finished 9th, two laps behind, but in France, he started 20th, one spot ahead of the man who rubbished him, Ukyo Katayama. The Kat got his revenge, though, by colliding with his countryman on the first lap. Another spin then put Inoue out at Silverstone, and he had another gearbox failure early on in Germany.

Taki is hit by the marshals' car in Hunagry, right by his stricken Arrows. He broke his leg, but was back on duty come the next round in Belgium.
Taki is hit by the marshals' car in Hunagry, right by his stricken Arrows. He broke his leg, but was back on duty come the next round in Belgium.


Hungarian marshals play tenpins with a certain unlucky Japanese driver

Then came Hungary, and for the first time he outqualified his team-mate, debutant Massimiliano Papis, by starting 20th. Amazingly Taki was some 1.2s faster than the Italian! But it was only after his engine failed on lap 14 that the real drama began. Having stopped on the edge of the track, his engine steaming, Inoue got out and began to berate the two marshals on the scene for not getting the fire extinguishers out. One of them finally ambled to the armco to get an extinguisher, but Inoue, in a hurry, followed the poor soul and seized the canister from him.

As he turned back towards his stricken Arrows, Inoue failed to see the marshals' vehicle heading towards him along the grass, and he was given an almighty clout. Amazingly, he ended up on his feet, but after a moment's delayed reaction, he clutched at his broken left leg and fell to the ground. Even more amazingly, one of the marshals on the spot hurriedly took the extinguisher which he had now dropped, and tended to the car, without giving a moment's thought to the hapless driver writhing on the deck!

See a video of Taki Inoue's collision with the Hungarian marshals' car.

As he turned back towards his stricken Arrows, Inoue failed to see the marshals' vehicle heading towards him along the grass, and he was given an almighty clout.
(MPEG format, 1mb, 13 secs)


Caught up in title race collision; on provisional pole in Portugal!

Recovering in time for Belgium, Inoue again outqualified Papis, and this time he made it home 12th but a lap down. In Italy he started 22nd, and then got caught up in the battle between Schumacher and Damon Hill. Having let the German by, Hill claimed that Inoue blocked him, and that distraction caused him to brake late once he was alongside the Arrows, and ram the back of the Benetton in yet another controversial collision between the title contenders. The replays showed Taki had done nothing of the sort. In the end Inoue came home 8th, a lap down, his best ever result.

At Estoril Inoue was 15th from 19th on the grid. The impressive thing was that, in four races since Papis had joined the team, Inoue had out-qualified him three times, and his sudden relative improvement included the start of Friday qualifying in Portugal, where for 12 famous minutes Inoue was actually on provisional pole! Taki then made even more headlines in Portugal by announcing that he would boycott his favourite drink, French red wine, in protest against France's renewed nuclear testing in the South Pacific!

Inoue gets the better of Katayama in qualifying, but the mortified Ukyo (right) gets his revenge by taking Taki off at the first lap.
Inoue gets the better of Katayama in qualifying in France, but the mortified Ukyo (right) gets his revenge by taking Taki off at the first lap.


Finishes a race at his home GP; sponsor pulls out killing Minardi deal

At the Nurburgring he failed to get off the start line from 23rd spot after his electrics played up. At Aida he had another Hart engine failure, but he managed to finish 12th (and last) on home soil at Suzuka. For the final race of the season in Australia, he started 21st, and then spun into the wall having been preoccupied with watching Schumacher in his mirrors as he was about to be lapped. With that his season, in which some might say that he spent as much time off the track as on it, was over.

For 1996, Inoue claims that he entered into talks with both Ligier and Sauber, but in the end a deal was done with Minardi. To drive for the Italian team, he would have to raise some US$3 million, which would have accounted for a quarter of Minardi's budget. He was in Portugal for the team's launch, but suddenly one of his sponsors, reputedly Unimat, pulled out, and instead of keeping it a secret Taki did the honourable thing and pulled out. He was replaced by Giancarlo Fisichella, giving the Italian his F1 debut.

After F1
1996, 99

One-off endurance drive; makes comeback in JGTC for Yellow Magic

Inoue was shattered to find himself out of an F1 drive, and there were reports he was suing Unimat. Since this, he has only appeared on the motor racing scene a few times. In the BRP Global GT Endurance Series 1000km round at Suzuka in 1996, he was entered in a Konrad Motorsport Porsche 911 GT2 Evo with Franz Konrad and Robert Nearn. Inoue crashed the car in Friday practice, but the combination still qualified 21st, before eventually retiring after only 18 laps.

Thereafter Inoue disappeared into the woodwork. Thanks to Stephen Herbert, we know that he made his comback drive in 1999, when he reappeared in four rounds of the Japanese GT Championship in a Ferrari F355 for the Club Yellow Magic team, sharing the car with Tsuyoshi Takahashi. They scored 21st place at Fuji before retiring at Sugo, Fuji again, and Motegi. With 3 points in the GT300 class, they were equal 32nd overall.

Taki's comeback drive after two years off came in the Japan GT Championship in 1999 driving a Yellow Magic F355. He finished the Championship equal 32nd.
Taki's comeback drive after two years off came in the Japan GT Championship in 1999 driving a Yellow Magic F355. He finished the Championship equal 32nd.


Critic of moneyed F1 - a trend which is reappearing

Nowadays Inoue also manages other racing drivers as the founder and president of the International Management Company. He has become something of an outspoken critic of the way money seems to do all the talking in F1 these days, drawing from his own experience. In the last decade, there seemed to be a gradual shift away from pay drivers thanks to the manufacturer involvement in the sport, but with more independent teams like HRT re-entering the fray, drivers paying their way are re-emerging.

Of his Formula 1 career, Inoue just wants to put it behind him. As he says himself: "F1 was a dream, okay? Now it's gone. Now I wake up. And nightmare, I completely forget about Formula 1." His final words of self-assessment in an interview with F1 Racing magazine were: "Smoke too much, drink too much, lazy bastard."

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