PEOPLE: NOBUHIKO KAWAMOTO

Name: Nobuhiko Kawamoto
Nationality: Japan

Nobuhiko Kawamoto, Japanese GP 2011

Nobuhiko Kawamoto, Japanese GP 2011 

 © The Cahier Archive

Kawamoto has been passionate about cars since his childhood. He studied engineering at Tohoku University and at the same time ran a club that repaired wrecked Buicks and Lincolns which had been left behind in Japan by the post-war American forces of occupation. Kawamoto joined Honda as soon as he had graduated in 1963 and almost immediately was sent to Europe to work as a design engineer on the Honda F1 team. Although known by the less than polite nickname of "Hong Kong Mechanic" he earned the respect of the F1 teams by his attention to detail and his desire to improve the racing machines.

After Honda withdrew from F1 Kawamoto went back to Japan and rose through the company, becoming head of Honda R&D. Engine research for a Formula 2 project began in 1978 and the following year Kawamoto designed a new V6 engine and in 1980 a deal was struck between Ralt and Honda. In only its second season the Ralt-Honda combination won the European F2 title with Geoff Lees and this was followed by titles in 1983 for Jonathan Palmer and in 1984 for Mike Thackwell. Preparations for a return to F1 followed and in 1983 Honda reappeared in F1, its new turbo engine powering the Spirit of Stefan Johansson. A deal was soon struck for Honda to supply engines to Williams in 1994 and in Dallas in 1994 the combination scored its first victory with Keke Rosberg. The partnership developed and by 1987 was dominant with Nelson Piquet winning the World Championship and Williams-Honda winning the Constructors' title. In 1988 Honda switched to McLaren and the resulting domination was unprecedented with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost winning 15 of the 16 races that year.

The success propelled Kawamoto to the top of Honda. In May 1990 he replaced Tadashi Kume as president and chief executive of the whole company Honda company. Kawamoto quickly realised that Honda could not afford to continue in F1 and at the end of 1992 he pulled the company out of the sport. His ultimate aim however remained to have a winning Honda car and engine combination. During the 1990s Kawamoto reorganised the whole company, slashed costs and expanded the all-important US market. In 1998 he was finally able to give the go-ahead for Honda to return to F1 with a complete team.

A factory was established in England under Harvey Postlethwaite and Dallara in Italy built the prototype cars in secret. But that year Kawamoto was ousted in a power struggle and, under pressure from the American Honda Motor company - which wanted nothing to do with an F1 programme - the new chief executive Hiroyuki Yoshino decided to axe the Honda F1 team and do a deal with British American Racing for the 2000 season.

In December 1998 Kawamoto received the extraordinary honour of being named as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for his "valuable contributions to improving relations between Britain and Japan." It was not a World Championship for a Honda F1 car but it was at least recompense for a remarkable career.

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