I guess most of you will not be aware of a little fella called Yuji Ide. And who can blame you.
Who is he, I hear you ask? Well...as a simple introduction…he was an F1 driver for the now extinct Super Aguri team back in 2006 for the first four races…until the FIA (motorsport’s governing body) persuaded the team to demote him to test driver. He was pretty slow.
Yuji Ide seems to be a classic example of a driver risking his career reputation by entering F1. Some like Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso prove their talent at handling an F1 machine from the start. Others such as Alex Yoong, Norberto Fontana and Ralph Firman have proved a lot in other forms of motorsport but never got to grips with F1 and only lasted, in many cases, due to sponsorship interest. The trend suggests that a noticeable performance early on means that the driver is much more likely to have a long term future in F1. With F1 being so public, any poor performances are amplified.
Ide’s career up to F1 wasn’t world changing - between 1996 and 1998 he was hardly racing at all. However the following year he was fortunate enough to be ‘saved’ by Aguri Suzuki and he started to perform in Sportscars and Formula Three. He had positive and negative seasons, but his second place finish in the 2005 Formula Nippon championship persuaded Suzuki to give him a chance in F1.
Ultimately his short time in F1 counted for nothing. There were perhaps too many disadvantages that he faced. He had limited experience in Europe after spending just one season in France, whilst the majority of other drivers on the F1 grid at the time had at least a ‘good’ knowledge of many of the circuits that currently adorn the championship. Another disadvantage was the car - fundamentally a four year old OrangeArrows F1 design that even back in 2002 was not at the sharp end of the grid, so would naturally struggle to get off the back of the grid in 2006. He had hardly sat in the car when Super Aguri got to the opening round in Bahrain, so to his credit he coped well with his initial race performances, even if he was to retire from his first two GP’s due to mechanical problems. He also faced being up against a quick team mate. Takuma Sato may have received a grilling due to his performance in the competitive BAR-Honda in 2005, but he amassed a huge amount of F1 experience compared to Ide, and he had knowledge of ultra-competitive European racing after winning the British Formula 3 Championship in 2001.
In order to make a real impact Ide had to do it quickly, as being in his early thirties has counted against him in an F1 world that seems to be discovering a string of young superstars. Sadly the impact he made, particularly after his incident with Christian Albers’ Midland F1 (another now extinct team) at Imola in '06, was more negative than positive.
It perhaps is unfair that Ide’s superlicence has been taken away so early in his F1 career because after all everyone makes mistakes. Maybe it was a signal to him to learn more and develop as a driver who can really cope with motorsport’s high tier – and it may serve as a warning to other drivers who have not yet taken the step up.
Despite all this though, some could argue that he has at least raced in F1, which to most professional racing drivers will remain a dream.
(Article originally written in 2006, adapted in 2011)