Japanese drivers often flatter to deceive in Formula 1. Ukyo Katayama was different, considered widely to have been the best Japanese of his generation. The "Tiny Warrior" proved doubters wrong by overcoming the physical demands of F1 and was a smiling presence in the paddock. He's best known for his four years with Ken Tyrrell's fading team but his final Grands Prix were as a Minardi man. Ukyo won junior single-seater titles in Japan in 1983 and 1984 and then moved to Europe to race in Formula Renault and Formula Three. By 1988 he was back in his homeland in Formula 3000 and he won the title in 1991.
The following year he had his F1 debut with Larrousse and did reasonably well against teammate Bertrand Gachot. His partnership with Tyrrell began in '93 thanks to its engine supplier Yamaha but Ukyo struggled. He went off so much he made notorious teammate Andrea De Cesaris look the master of racecraft. Some said that struggle was simply down to his small frame but the Tiny Warrior battled on and 1994 was his best season in Formula One as he frequently outclassed Mark Blundell in the other Tyrell. For 1994 the FIA had banned the gizmos of traction control and active suspension so this provided an opportunity for brains to win over brawn/money. Harvey Postlethwaite duly designed a basic but tidy car for Tyrrell.
It helped Ukyo score two finishes in fifth position at Interlagos and Imola and Autosport hailed him as the most improved driver of the season. Although Blundell finished higher in the championship, Ukyo had outdriven the Englishman. Unfortunately, he also suffered more breakdowns. It was the last hurrah for Tyrrell as Yamaha was no match for Renault or Ford and certainly no replacement for arch-rivals Honda. Tyrrell itself was very short of sponsorship and just a couple of years from the BAR buy-out. Thanks to the Mild Seven backing for both Tyrrell and Benetton it is widely believed Ukyo was offered a drive alongside the new World Champion Michael Schumacher for 1995. Contractual problems stopped this as Ken was clearly keen to keep his man.
Also Ukyo now received some bad news: he had cancer on his back. Information he would keep secret until his retirement three years later. It wasn't terminal but it did make driving a Grand Prix car even less comfortable than usual. 1995 was a poor season for both driver and team notable only for a huge shunt at Estoril. One could say it was Ukyo's "first contact" with Minardi as he humped Luca Badoer's car at the start. Wreckage littered the grid causing a red flag but Ukyo and Luca did not suffer serious injuries. Yamaha and Katayama were to stay with Tyrrell for just one more season, where he was outclassed by Mika Salo, before Ukyo signed for Faenza. His 1997 season with Minardi-Hart was not the crowning glory of Ukyo's career. He was partnered by an impressive Italian rookie called Jarno Trulli and by season's end Ukyo decided to quit F1. He came second at Le Mans in 1999 with Toyota and continued to make appearances in other motor racing events such as the Dakar rally. From 2007 to 2009 Katayama took part in that event using a car which ran on biofuel made from used cooking oil. Katayama's other great passion is mountaineering and he climbed some of the world's highest mountains such as the 8,200-metre Cho Oyu and the 8150-metre Manaslu in Nepal.