Maki
 
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Last updated: 27-April-2012


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• Mysterious Japanese team takes the press by surprise
There's no doubt that Japanese involvement in Formula One has been a matter of folklore, which has included a succession of banzai drivers, contrasting fortunes for automotive giants Honda and Toyota as works teams and engine suppliers, and the gallant efforts of smaller outfits like Kojima and - most recently - Super Aguri. But one Japanese effort tends to slip through the cracks of Grand Prix history, largely because it was spectacularly unsuccessful. That team was Maki Engineering, which emerged during the privateer, free-for-all spirit of the 1970s.

Maki was a collaboration between two young Japanese engineers, Kenji Mimura and Masao Ono. Together with a team of mechanics, all in their 20s, they set their sights on conquering Grand Prix racing. Realising that they were complete beginners, they looked for someone with F1 experience to help them. They identified New Zealander Howden Ganley, who as a driver had also competed for BRM, Frank Williams Racing and March. Ganley had found himself without a drive at the end of the 1973 season, but his nous would be invaluable for the Japanese upstarts. They just had to get him on board.

Ganley recalls the hilarious phone calls he started receiving out of the blue in late-1973, when he was certain that someone was playing a practical joke on him. He also tells the story of how he realised that in fact he had a serious proposition on his hands, when in December 1973 a fleet of twelve taxis stopped outside his house in Britain, and a man stepped out and asked if Maki could use his workshop as a base for an F1 team, and if he would be their driver. Howden seized the opportunity to stay in F1, and hoped that he could shape these enthusiastic novices into a competitive force.

Ono had a chassis design over which Mimura had designed the bodywork for Maki's F1 challenger, called the F101. They built a chassis in Japan before shipping parts over to Britain to construct a second example in Ganley's workshop, as well as creating two extra spare chassis. By mid-March 1974, Maki was ready to unveil the car to the world and invited journalists to a presentation at the Carlton Tower Hotel in London's West End on 15 March 1974. This caught the press by surprise. No one had even known of the mystery team’s existence or its plans before being invited to the launch.

And what ambitious plans they were. A Maki spokesman announced that the team hoped to create an in-house engine, and perhaps even start a customer chassis business. The journalists present speculated that Maki was really a front for an effort by Honda (which had of course earlier been in F1 - with some success - from 1964 to 1967) or by Nissan. But the spokesman quashed that rumour: "No, Maki has no contacts with Japanese auto makers. The main objective is research and development of new powertrain and energy sources. The Maki F101 has been planned for several years ..."

Veteran writer Doug Nye reminisces about the launch in these terms on the Autosport Nostalgia Forum: "There was Howden standing looking rather awkward flanked by our Japanese hosts. I recalled we grinned to nodded to him - whereupon he glanced from side to side, beamed ... and bowed low towards us, from the waist. While I think every journo attending respected the Maki group's enthusiasm and good intentions it became obvious very quickly that at that time they were absolute innocents abroad. Even the most cursory examination of the car indicated it was a piece of optimistic rubbish."

Some of the elements of the F101 were typical of the other kit cars of the period, such as the ubiquitous Cosworth DFV engine, a Hewland gearbox, Lucas fuel injection and Koni shock absorbers. The team had also managed to procure a Firestone tyre contract. But the rest of the car was where Mimura and Ono had gone ambitiously radical. For starters, there was the gigantic bodywork which almost swallowed the front wheels - and was arguably illegal because it was higher than the wheels. There was the huge windscreen, which covered half of the front of the cockpit.

The F101 caused a stir when it was launched to the press at the Carlton Tower Hotel in March 1974. The F101 caused a stir when it was launched to the press at the Carlton Tower Hotel in March 1974.
• Radical bodywork dumped in a futile bid to shed weight
There was the massive engine cover - rather like an oversized version of the one that would appear 21 years later on the mid-winged McLaren MP4/10. And then there were the long sidepods, which ran all the way down the sides of the car, containing the radiators and the fuel tanks, with slits at the top for cooling. It was also said that the car had some kind of data logging system on the suspension. To top it off, the car was decked out in a white colour scheme with a single red circle on the nose and on the engine cover, evoking the Japanese flag.

The team actually planned to run two cars during the 1974 season, one for Ganley and one for a Japanese driver called Shaw Hayami (also known as Shotetsu Arai). Hayami was an endurance sports car driver who was poised to become one of the first Japanese pilots to venture to Europe and the first to compete in F1. As it turned out, Maki did not end up having the funds to run a second car, and after doing some F3 racing in 1975, Hayami returned to Japan where he became a city council member in Hiroshima and a mayoral candidate.

But it appears as though Hayami did get to drive the F101 in early testing. On 23 March 1974 Maki held its inaugural test at Goodwood, and shortly afterwards ran at Silverstone as well. It is believed that Hayami was behind the wheel, and that Ganley was kept in the dark as to what times the car was setting. In fact, it was apparent that the car suffered from sluggish straight-line speed and unresponsive steering and was prone to overheating. But more than that, very quickly the F101's biggest problem came to the fore: it was massively overweight, perhaps by up to 150kg!

Mimura and Ono had taken the deformable structure regulations too seriously when they designed the car. The Japanese press moved quickly to dampen expectations, saying: "Because it is Maki Engineering's first attempt at Formula One, their aim is to obtain as much information as possible with the F101. Their first priority was safety, so every part was designed with more than sufficient stiffness. By doing so, the weight increased considerably which leads to a loss of competitiveness. A realistic challenge can only be expected from the following year onwards."

Mimura and Ono were surprised to find out that the European teams were paying little heed to the deformable structure rule in order to decrease weight. At first, they intended to plough on and debut the F101 as it was, but Maki was refused an entry for the Monaco GP. So they then targeted the British GP at Brands Hatch in July, but Mimura recalls that Ganley told the team in no uncertain terms that he did not wish to drive the F101 in its original form. So they set about creating the F101B in Ganley's workshop, following the New Zealander's advice.

The result was a much more conventional machine, although the basic chassis remained the same. The full width nose and front wing was replaced by a Tyrrell 007-style wide, flat nose, blending into the sidepods. The radiators had been reconfigured and moved to just in front of the rear wheels to prevent overheating. The large engine cover was gone, leaving the engine exposed, but a standard narrow airbox was added. Ganley also requested that the roll hoop be made of aluminium rather than steel. All in all, according to Ganley the only thing that stayed the same was the rear wing!

All this was done about a month out from the British GP, but the reworking of the car had only shaved off about 20 to 30kg, meaning that the F101B was still grossly overweight, and Ganley knew his chances of being competitive were slim. The story is told of when the Maki transporter - ahead of its time and complete with a mobile workshop inside - was wheeled into the Brands Hatch paddock, an observer said to Howden, "You have the biggest truck of them all." The Kiwi replied forlornly, "It's also the biggest car!"

Howden Ganley manhandles the overweight F101B around Brands Hatch on Maki's Grand Prix debut. Howden Ganley manhandles the overweight F101B around Brands Hatch on Maki's Grand Prix debut.
• Nurburgring crash forces Maki to withdrawal until mid-1975
Ganley was right in thinking that he would face an uphill battle. The British GP would have 34 entrants for a 25-car field. In qualifying, he was only able to force the Maki up to 32nd fastest, 1.3 seconds off Tim Schenken's Trojan in 25th and 4 seconds off Niki Lauda's pole time. One of the problems was that the car would only complete a few laps in practice before something broke. But Ganley and the team were confident that the F101 could be made more reliable with some more reinforcement, and once they managed to get some serious running they could start slimming down the design.

They headed to the daunting Nurburgring, where the start-finish straight and the pits were in a loop section between the lesser-used Sudschleife and the full Nordschleife. During Friday practice Ganley used a joining road behind the pits to just circulate around the loop section, before feeling confident enough to tackle the full Nordschleife. Ganley started pushing but the F101B only got as far as Hatzenbach, about a mile into the lap, when the rear suspension failed and the car swerved right into the armco barrier, ripping off the nose section of the car.

Ganley's legs were dangling out the front of the car. He managed to get out by himself but he collapsed when he got to the fence, his ankles seriously injured. The chassis was so badly damaged it was effectively written off. Maki's second Grand Prix weekend was over, as was their New Zealand driver's Grand Prix career. Later, Bernie Ecclestone (at that time the boss of Brabham) was reported to have been scathing about the Japanese team's effort, saying "I wouldn't have a water tank made the way that monocoque's been built."

At first Maki wanted to return for the Italian GP, with ex-Lotus driver Dave Walker and Hayami behind the wheel, but that did not come to fruition. Plans for Ganley to drive at the Canadian GP also came to naught. Maki had not managed to do a lot of miles with the F101 or the F101B, but it was already clear that the car needed changes - but that would not be forthcoming without funds. But for 1975, the team landed a sponsorship deal with Citizen watches, and they started preparing the F101C using one of the two spare tubs they had built the previous year.

The F101C featured a revised airbox and some changes to the endplates. Arguably the biggest change was to widen the front track by 40mm longer suspension arms on both sides to improve steering responsiveness, whilst narrowing the rear track at the same time. But all in all the car was not that different to the F101B, and in 1975 it would run on Goodyear tyres, Firestone having withdrawn. The next question was, who would drive it? Some sources suggest that Walker, Hayami and Brian McGuire all tested the car, and initially Walker was entered for Maki's return at the Belgian GP at Zolder.

The Australian driver arrived at Zolder, but the team had not turned up. They were also entered for the Swedish GP, but this time neither driver or team appeared. Finally, Maki showed up at the Dutch GP at Zandvoort, but the driver was an unknown name. He was Hiroshio Fushida, the son of Japan's largest kimono manufacturer, who had won the 1972 Fuji Grand Champion Series and dabbled in Japanese sports cars, and in Formula A and Trans-Am in America. Fushida thus became the first Japanese driver to attempt to qualify for a World Championship F1 race.

Fushida was guaranteed a starting place because there were only 25 entrants. But he had only managed a few slow laps in Friday practice - some 13 seconds off the eventual pole time and almost 10 seconds off the slowest starter - when he over-revved the Cosworth engine and it blew. With no spare engine, Maki had to withdrawal from the weekend, thereby missing its golden opportunity to make its first Grand Prix start. They were then forced to miss the French GP as well while they procured a new motor, before being back for the British GP.

The F101C looked the part with its Citizen sponsorship, but Hiroshi Fushida wasn't close to making the grid at Silverstone. The F101C looked the part with its Citizen sponsorship, but Hiroshi Fushida wasn't close to making the grid at Silverstone.
• Trimmer bravely pilots the fragile F101C
But just like the year before, there were more entries than the 26 grid slots. Sadly, Fushida was slowest of the 28 cars in qualifying, 3.75s slower than John Nicholson's Lyncar in 26th position and 7.25s behind Tom Pryce's Shadow on pole. It was then back again to the Nurburgring, where Maki not only had newfound sponsorship from FINA and Marigold, but also a new driver. Perhaps sensing that Fushida had been out of his depth, the team had brought in former British F3 champion Tony Trimmer, who was racing successfully in Formula Atlantic at the time.

What a challenge it would be for the Englishman. Not only was there the culture shock - the mechanics were Japanese and, according to Trimmer, only spoke broken English and said yes to everything - but he had never driven at the Nurburgring before. Tony would describe it as "probably the craziest thing I have ever done". The F101C had been heavily reinforced to try to hold it together - which of course only added unwanted weight. It was enough to make sure that Trimmer at least completed a full lap of the Nordschleife, but eventually the car did break.

By the time it stopped, Trimmer was the slowest competitor and the only non-qualifier, 6.7s slower than Lella Lombardi who was in turn 16s slower than Gijs van Lennep. More to the point, Trimmer was a whopping 44.5s off Lauda's pole time! Undeterred, the team went to the Osterreichring for the Austrian GP, by which time further modifications to the radiators and water supply had been made, as well as to the rear suspension attachment points in a bid to cure the car's rather disturbing trait of regularly pulling out suspension mounts on faster corners.

For a short time it looked as though the changes had made a difference; Trimmer briefly went faster than Rolf Stommelen, Jo Vonlanthen and Roelof Wunderink in practice. But then he felt the rear of the F101C become unstable and returned to the pits, and it became apparent that the rear suspension was only hanging on by a hinge. Stommelen, Vonlanthen and Wunderink all went faster - by several seconds at that - and once again, the blue machine was slowest of the 29 entrants, over 10 seconds off the pole time, and had failed to qualify.

This led to some most unflattering comments by Autosport reporter Nick Brittan, who said that the car looked like it had been designed at school, the mechanics looked like they had been dressed by charity, and that that visual impression corresponded to the mechanical reliability of the car. That was unwarrantedly harsh, but it showed that Maki was leaving a poor impression even in these kit-car days. However, the team had the opportunity to earn some respect at the non-championship Swiss GP, held at Dijon, where the reduced entry list meant that Maki was guaranteed a place on the grid.

Trimmer was slowest of the 16 cars in practice, and although the F101C needed a change of spark plugs mid-race, it soldiered on to the finish in 13th place, six laps down on Clay Regazzoni's winning Ferrari. It would prove to be Maki's only ever race start and classified finish. But normal service resumed at the Italian GP, where the F101C did not break down, but clutch and tyre problems resulted once again in Trimmer being the slowest of the 28 entrants and failing to qualify along with Wunderink's Ensign. With limited funds, the team decided not to travel to America for the final race of the season.

Trimmer wonders what else is about to break as he sits in the Nurburgring pits. Trimmer wonders what else is about to break as he sits in the Nurburgring pits.
• One (short) last hurrah in the first Japanese Grand Prix
The F101 series of cars had basically been far too overweight yet at the same time far too fragile, and far too underdeveloped. Ono left the team and went off to work on the Kojima project, which would stun the establishment at the 1976 Japanese GP. But with that Fuji race on the horizon, Mimura wanted Maki to be on the grid as well, and he set about working on a brand new design, the F102A. Construction of the car was outsourced to a group called KC Engineering (made up of former Maki mechanics), and the car was unveiled in the week leading up to the Japanese GP.

The F102A was a radical departure from the F101 machines. It a bid to make it as light as possible, Mimura penned an extremely narrow and trapezoidal chassis. It had a large rear wing but virtually no sidepods to speak of. Its radiators were outboard but parallel to the chassis, and the Cosworth DFV engine was uncovered. The car only weighed 530kg, it had some sponsorship from Fujita, a new black, navy and yellow paint job, and Mimura had convinced Trimmer to sit in the cockpit once again. But Tony soon found out that the untested design was no improvement: "It was worse than the old one."

The gearbox broke after one lap in practice; Trimmer was some 23s off the pace. He then only managed one timed lap in qualifying, over 18s off pole and over 13s slower than the nearest car. Trimmer takes up the story: "It was so bad that the other F1 team managers came around to look at it and wouldn't allow me to run. They decided it was so flawed in design it would be dangerous to drive. The whole of the front end was held on by a small bracket which looked as though it would cave in as soon as you got going and you'd run over the front of your car."

All in all, it was even more farcical than Maki's tribulations the previous two seasons. The F102A was therefore a non-qualifier but that was not the end of the story. Trimmer was offered a last-minute drive in a spare Shadow, but Maki and its sponsors would not let him because he was contracted to them, scuppering what would have been the Englishman's best chance. It was a sad way to treat a driver who had bravely piloted Maki's cars despite their dangerous inadequacies; Trimmer counted 26 major breakages in his time with the team.

In hindsight, Maki seems like a shambles. But although the team had operated out of a European base in a very Euro-centric form of motorsport, it had been very much a Japanese effort and the cars were primarily made in Japan where, in the mid-1970s, it had not been as easy to obtain quality materials. Plus the team members were in their 20s and had been fish out of water, but they had gained valuable experience from their failures. Ono gladly admits that the excellent Kojima KE007 was essentially his idea for the next Maki, having learnt the lessons from the F101 series of cars.

And those F101 chassis live on today. One of them was wheeled out in 1994 for a test at Snetterton in the hands of Jan Lammers, and an example currently resides in the Spa museum. In recent years, a group in Japan with the involvement of Shaw Hayami himself has built a replica of the original launch-spec F101, complete with its outrageous and cumbersome bodywork. Although when one thinks of Japanese makes being involved in F1, the likes of Honda, Toyota and Yamaha come to mind, it's good to know that the legacy of Maki Engineering hasn't been entirely forgotten.

The radical F102A spent little time on the track at the 1976 Japanese GP. The radical F102A spent little time on the track at the 1976 Japanese GP.
 
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