Today, Japan is one of the most respected countries for technology worldwide, and this applies to Formula 1 as well. In the early 1980s, Honda moved into Formula 2 with a turbocharged engine, and wiped the floor with the opposition. By 1986 they had taken the Formula 1 Constructors' Cup with Williams, adding another the following year, then four consecutive wins with McLaren (with five drivers' titles too). Since then, there has always been a Japanese presence in the paddock, be it another engine manufacturer, such as Yamaha, or via drivers such as Ukyo Katayama or Shinji Nakano. More recently, Honda re-entered Grand Prix racing with a full works team, as well as contributing heavily towards Aguri Suzuki's Super Aguri semi-works squad. So ubiquitous are the Japanese to the sport that it's difficult to remember sometimes how it all started.
Honda had entered Grand Prix racing before, in 1964, with the unknown American driver Ronnie Bucknum driving. The following year, they added Richie Ginther to their line-up, and won a Grand Prix. For 1966, they pulled off the coup of signing John Surtees, but despite the driver's efforts, won only once more before withdrawing in 1968. The effort is often seen only as a qualified success.
From then until 1974, very little was heard of from Japan with regards to Formula 1 (or, indeed, international motorsport). Howden Ganley, the popular New Zealand driver and ex-McLaren mechanic, was winding down a Grand Prix career which had included stints at BRM, Frank Williams Racing and March, when he became involved in a project with a pair of Japanese engineers, Kenji Mimura (team manager) and Masao Ono (designer), and jointly they set up Maki Engineering. The pair, and a few junior engineers, moved into Ganley's garage and began building a Grand Prix car. This story isn't quite as ludicrous as it might sound - in the early 1970s, the Cosworth DFV was just one of a number of vital components that were available off the shelf, and it took only a relatively small amount of money to build or buy a chassis, hire a driver and enter a couple of races. These were the days of Lec, Token and Lyncar, where new teams would turn out for three or four races with personnel that could be counted on the fingers of a hand, and disappear in a blink.
In March 1974 the trio held a press conference in London to announce their intention to get a foothold in motorsport engineering via Grand Prix racing, with Ganley as a driver. There were even plans to build an in-house engine further down the line, and to start a customer chassis empire.
The work on the F1 car continued, finally being completed for Maki Engineering Racing Team's local event, the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch. The F101 design was fairly typical looking for the time, taking a cue from the Tyrrell 007, with a wide, flat nose which blended out onto the sidepods and rose up to the driver, with the usual exposed engine, and a high airbox. A thinner version of this had been tried early on, as had a wide, one-piece nose, but both had proven unsuccessful during testing at the Fuji circuit. The fuel tanks were located in the sidepods and behind the driver. It was a pretty conventional machine, using a DFV, Lucas injection and a Hewland FGA gearbox, while Maki purchased a tyre contract from Firestone, by then winding down its' Grand Prix involvement.
However, the car was at least 50kg overweight. It lacked straight-line speed, and tended to break very easily. Still, it looked pretty good in all-white apart from a red circle on the nose, evoking the memory of the 1960s Honda cars, and Ganley was a useful driver. The British Grand Prix always attracted a very large entry, due to the number of club drivers and teams who tended to join up, and 35 cars would be fighting for 25 starting places.
It was always going to be difficult for the Maki team, and it was little surprise that Ganley was unable to haul the car higher than 32nd overall, and thus miss out on the grid by just over a second. However, spirits were high in the little team. They had suffered a number of 'new car' problems, with Ganley rarely getting more than a few consecutive laps before anything broke. Maki were confident that with some reinforcement the car would be more reliable, and once they got running they could start to slim down the design.
A fortnight later, the team arrived at the Nürburgring with hopes that Ganley's class would make enough of a difference to get them onto the grid at the daunting circuit. However, in the first timed practice session, the car's rear suspension failed at Hatzenbach on Ganley's first flying lap, throwing the F101 into the barriers. The impact tore the nose of the car clean off, leaving Ganley's legs hanging out. The Kiwi was lucky that no other cars collected him, but was left with leg injuries that would end his Grand Prix career. He left Maki immediately, going on to set up Tiga Engineering with Tim Schenken.
This left Maki without a driver, and plans to contest the rest of the European season were shelved as the team looked for new premises, a new driver and tried to work on the F101. By now the money was running dry, and the full overhaul the F101 needed wasn't forthcoming. However, they managed to land sponsorship from Citizen Watches, and planned to join the 1975 Championship at the sixth round, the Belgian Grand Prix, entering ex-British Formula 3 Champion and Lotus works driver Dave Walker, but the Australian arrived at Zolder to find no sign of the team, and neither party made the trip to Anderstörp, despite entering.
The F101C eventually turned up at Zandvoort, with a revised airbox and some minor work on the endplates constituting most of the improvements made. Driving was the relatively unknown Japanese Hiroshi Fushida, the son of Japan's largest kimono manufacturer, who had won the 1972 Fuji Grand Champion Series (Japan's national Formula 3 series), as well as driving GTs nationally, while also dabbling a bit overseas, notably in a 1970 Formula-A Eagle in America (placing 5th at Laguna Seca) and in Trans-Am. Despite this respectable pedigree, it was something of a surprise he was granted an entry, and he was to be the first Japanese driver to attempt to qualify for a Grand Prix.
The car looked better in its' new blue colour scheme, but it didn't run any better. However, with just 25 entrants, Fushida was guaranteed a starting place despite being nine seconds off the pace. Sadly, he over-revved the engine in the second timed session, which promptly blew. With no spare, the team had to pack up and head home without starting. The team missed the French Grand Prix while trying to find funds to purchase a new motor, but managed to sort things out by the British Grand Prix. Sadly, the entry list had swelled to 28 cars, two of which would miss the cut, and Fushida was slowest of all, some four seconds off John Nicholson's Lyncar in 26th place.
Mimura decided to change the driver, signing Tony Trimmer, the 1970 Shell British F3 Champion, to drive in the next three races. While Trimmer had no F1 experience, he was a respected club racer. The team arrived at the Nürburgring with hopes raised again, plus extra money from FINA and Marigold sponsorship, but Trimmer couldn't make the thing run any faster than his predecessors, bending the car, losing most of the second session and failed to qualify by seven seconds (and a massive 45 seconds from Niki Lauda's pole time). The same story came at the Österreichring, with the gap from the grid being 2.3 seconds. The car was just too heavy, especially with all the reinforcement work done. Again Trimmer missed the cut in Italy, by some two seconds. The team decided to avoid the long haul to America for the final round of the World championship, but did take in the non-Championship Swiss Grand Prix at Dijon-Prenois. Trimmer was again slowest of all in practice, but with a small entry, was allowed to start, running slowly but steadily to 13th place, six laps down.
Citizen Watches had seen enough, and withdrew their backing, and Mimura and Ono returned to Japan. The latter left the team altogether, and began designing an F1 chassis for Kojima. For 1976, Japan would have its' own Grand Prix for the first time. Mimura was determined to enter this, even if the rest of the World Championship was beyond his means, and began work on the Maki F102A. This was rather a radical departure, a very narrow car with rear-mounted sidepods and small radiators, as well as a very wide rear wing. Mimura persuaded Tony Trimmer to drive the revised car at Fuji, with Fujita putting up some money. Sadly, while Ono's Kojima scared the wits out of the European teams with its' pace in practice in the hands of Masahiro Hasemi, Trimmer was a massive 13 seconds off making the grid. After this, Mimura finally gave up on the project, and what had started as a proud attempt to stamp Japan's name on international motorsport would end in abject failure, unnoticed by most and forgotten by the rest.