Taki Inoue: The Worst F1 Driver Ever?

Taki Inoue driving his Footwork F1 car
Go for it!

Taki Inoue was an F1 driver at the tail-end of 1994 and for the whole of 1995. He quickly cemented a reputation as a pay driver—to this day, many F1 pundits consider him one of the worst ever drivers.

Inoue agrees with that assessment. And he remains famous thanks to a handful of utterly bizarre incidents during the 1995 season. Let’s have a gander.

Inoue

Looks pretty solid, right? Blasting around a terrifying circuit like Monza at 200mph. Only a superstar driver can do that.

But Inoue was backed by enormous Japanese sponsorship funds. Cash-strapped teams such as the now-defunct Footwork took him on simply to prop up their annual budgets.

And that’s why he was in F1, as the driver (now a driving coach and active social media presence) happily acknowledges.

A below-average racing driver in general, in 2015 he explained he was able to deal with F1 cars simply by driving slowly.

So he could compete. Just at a very bad level, often way off the pace.

At the first race of the 1995 season (at Interlargos) his teammate Gianni Morbidelli qualified the far from excellent Footwork 13th.

Inoue was 21st almost three seconds slower than his teammate (a disastrous gap in the world of F1) and five seconds off Damon Hill’s pole time. That set the scene for the rest of the season.

Far from improving, at the next race in Argentina he was dead last in qualifying—26th and 14 seconds off David Coulthard’s Q1 pole time and 11 seconds slower than Morbidelli.

It’s due to pay drivers like Inoue the FIA introduced the 107% qualifying rule in 1997—that stopped ineffective drivers from making it to the grid.

But to be fair to Inoue, he was only usually around five to six seconds off the pole position time.

You do need talent to drive an F1 car. There’s no way he could have completed an entire season without some.

Max Mosely once said even the driver running around in dead last is doing a fantastic job—to drive an F1 car requires highly impressive skills.

But Inoue wasn’t good enough for F1… yet, strangely, he wasn’t as disastrous as legend would have it.

Anyway, his career at the pinnacle of motorsport was deservedly short-lived.

The Incidents

We first came across Inoue’s story in a 1999 issue of F1 Racing Magazine. In it, he gave an incredibly self-deprecating interview about his obvious shortcomings as a racing driver.

At the end of it, he summed himself up as a “stupid bastard.” The journalist concluded his piece with, “No. A lovely bastard.”

As much of a great fun character he is, Inoue remains famous for his lack of speed. That and two really weird incidents. The first came at Monaco in practice on 25th May 1995.

Right, so some context. In the practice session, Inoue had spun and his car was stranded on the circuit.

A recovery vehicle arrived to tow him back to the pits—the driver was sitting in his Footwork helping to steer the car back.

The recovery vehicle towing him was moving fairly slowly. The safety car was also out on track and, somehow, blasted around a corner and slammed into the back of the Footwork.

That catapulted Inoue’s car upside down. Luckily the driver was wearing his helmet—a massive dint was left in it. Inoue was sent off to hospital for checks, but was fine.

Whilst amusing, had Inoue not had his helmet on this could have easily turned into a fatal accident. Footwork team boss rounded on the FIA:

"Why was Ragnotti [the safety car driver] out there? It's just lack of discipline. I understand he had accomplished a couple of laps before at a million miles an hour with handbrake turns at the Loews hairpin. What was the purpose of him doing it? Was it to give officials a thrill?"

The FIA race weekend stewards acknowledged the incident wasn’t Inoue’s fault. He even took part in the race, but retired before mid-distance.

Done and dusted? No. Later in the year, on 13th August 1995, he had another bizarre moment with a medical car.

This time he was mildly injured and in pain. According to Inoue, race director Charlie Whiting decided to wait until the end of the race to airlift him to a hospital.

Inoue also claims he had to barter with the Hungarian medical professionals for assistance—they expected payment for helping him.

The Japanese driver blagged his way to the hospital, received treatment, and then legged it to his home in Monaco.

Apparently, they were chasing him for years afterward for payment.

His final F1 race was at Adelaide in 1995, where he retired from the race (and F1).

His career-best finish was eighth at the attrition hit 1995 Monza race, where he inadvertently forced race leaders Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill to collide by getting in their way.

In modern F1, eighth would have bagged the driver and Footwork four points.

As it was, he scored zero career points. He then had a stab at sportscars, but retired from racing in 1999 aged 36.

In 2015 Inoue told Top Gear magazine about his rise to F1. And pointed out the following regarding his pay driver status:

"Every single driver is a sort of pay driver. Schumacher, Alonso. Yes, Alonso gets a driving fee, but how much does [Spanish sponsor] Santander pay to Ferrari? What I did was the same. The only difference is that I was not good enough to drive in F1.”

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