Satoru Nakajima who built an era of Japan’s national formula racing in the 1980s with Kazuyoshi Hoshino, debuted in the Formula One Grand Prix in 1987 as the first Japanese full-time F1 driver. He joined the Lotus team that adopted a Honda engine from that year, with Ayrton Senna as his teammate. Nakajima finished seventh in the season opener, and then sixth already in Round 2. He continued performing well to finish fifth in Round 3 and fourth in Round 7.
Round 15, the Japanese Grand Prix, was held after a successful championship series and saw many banners cheering Nakajima. The circuit was completely filled with cheering for him with flags. ‘I’ll just do my best like I have in all the other races,’ I said at that time. But actually, I was deeply moved in the Japanese Grand Prix. The cheering of my fans gave me a miraculous power,” said Nakajima afterward. While he was impressed by his rivals who pushed hard immediately from the beginning of the race weekend on the track where they were running for the first time, Nakajima qualified in 12th place, which tied his best qualifying position. When Nigel Mansell (Williams) withdrew from the race, Nakajima was moved up to 11th place on the starting grid, and that made it his best position ever.
At the start, Nakajima dodged well a car stalled in front of him to move up in position. At the first turn, he employed an overtaking technique called ‘Osoto Gari,’ or overtaking cars from the outside even as they tried keep an advantage by clinging tightly to the inside of the curve. With this, Nakajima gained six positions to take fifth place in one bold move. But fighting in the free-for- all race development, he dropped back in position to seventh in the closing stages of the race.
His fans, his team and Nakajima himself wanted to finish in the top six in his home Grand Prix. To do so, he had to move up one more place. Then, with two laps to go, a car running in front slowed down and Nakajima passed it easily to take the checkered flag in sixth place. At this moment, a great cheer went up from grand stands. The standing ovation made a round of the circuit in parallel with Nakajima on his victory lap. Literally, Nakajima finished his first home Grand Prix running a lap together with his fans.
There were two remaining races including this round at Suzuka in the championship, and Mansell would have to win those two consecutive victories to get the title. However, he suffered a crash during a qualifying session and was forced to miss the race. As a result, Piquet became the world champion. Gerhard Berger was the fastest in the qualifying sessions. In the first session, he clocked the second fastest lap time following Piquet. Berger was the first to go out onto the track in the second session and improved on his best lap time lap by lap. He got a marvelous pole position in his Ferrari that had been off form that year.
Gerhard Berger took the lead into the first turn followed by Alain Prost (McLaren), who started from second place on the grid, and Thierry Boutsen (Benetton-Ford) coming from third on the grid. Michele Alboreto (Ferrari), who qualified fourth, was unable to make a start, which created great confusion in the pack behind. Moreover, Prost fell back to last place due to a slow puncture. Berger received the checkered flag first with a comfortable 17-second lead. He won a great victory in the F1 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka; becoming the first winner of the Suzuka round and giving Ferrari its first victory in two years since the German Grand Prix, Round 9 of the 1985 F1 World Championship.
Second place went to Ayrton Senna, teammate of Satoru Nakajima. From seventh place on the grid, Senna had a good start, taking fourth place into the first turn and moved up to third when Prost dropped out. Senna became involved in a great scrap with Boutsen, Piquet and Stefan Johansson (McLaren) to climb up to second place at one time. Though he was led by Johansson during the closing stages of the race, Senna staged a brilliant overtake on the final lap to finish in second place in a nose-to- tail dash with Johansson. This was the moment that started the history of Senna as ‘Suzuka meister’.