Not many drivers can boast about having a Formula One team set up for them, but Takuma Sato is one of those elite few. However, while he thoroughly enjoyed his two and a bit years with Super Aguri, the collapse of the team earlier this year has left him without an F1 drive.
But taking on board the fighting spirit that became a trademark at Super Aguri, Sato has very much not given up on F1. He is working hard to reclaim his place on the grid.
Autosport.com caught up with the popular Japanese driver recently, when he hosted a kart race for the media and members of his fan club at Rye House in Hertfordshire. He spoke about his time at Super Aguri, his future plans and why he is determined not to turn his back on F1. This was all before he hit the track and won again...
Q. How have things been since Super Aguri folded? You made a brief appearance at the Monaco Grand Prix, but said it hurt to watch the cars when you weren't racing yourself?
Takuma Sato: "Obviously everyone was shocked after Barcelona, and it was a difficult time to understand what had happened. But I couldn't believe that we were not racing. Then the next grand prix was in Turkey, which is a bit further from where I live, so that was a little bit isolated and I didn't feel much about that.
"But by the time they came back to Europe in Monaco, which is where I live, it was unavoidable not to make contact with F1. That time was hard and it was a difficult time. Other than the final press release I hadn't done any press conferences, so I went to the paddock and spoke to people.
"That was okay, but then watching qualifying and the race at home - it wasn't easy. Since then, I follow F1 because for the time when I do come back, I have to be fully updated. It is not really fun to watch for me though!"
Q. Is it nice though to have a bit of a break to recharge your batteries?
TS: "No, not necessarily. As a racing driver you want to keep going all the time. I had a good winter break, so I didn't need a break now. It is also a little bit of a unique time - not racing means I can spend some time doing other things, like being with the family. That is a big thing.
"But I have to do the usual physical training, so everything is still preparing for racing as I normally would - except I am not racing! Hopefully our negotiations with a few teams will end with a positive result."
Q. What can you tell us about the progress of those talks?
TS: "Well, at the moment there is nothing I can say. Although we are talking with a few teams, we are just at the start of our conversations. All the teams have arrived at the midseason and it is too early to think about next year. If any opportunity comes up to race this year then it will be a bonus, but I am just focusing on getting back to F1.
"I have no intention to leave F1 and do not want to give it up until there is absolutely zero chance. If it happens then I will think about it then, but until then I will be flat out working hard to get back to F1. Whether it will be soon, or 2009 or onwards, we don't know."
Q. Do you still have links with Honda, either in Japan or Honda Racing?
TS: "Well, I am sort of a free agent so I can go anywhere. Honda were central to things in the last few years of my F1 career. We still have a lot of talks, and I flew to Japan immediately after Barcelona for a meeting with Honda to talk about things. We are still talking, but nothing has been decided or promised."
Q. Your former teammate Anthony Davidson had a run with Honda Racing recently. Has there been any talk of you doing that?
TS: "That wasn't really a surprise. Alex Wurz went to Le Mans and Anthony had been test driver there for five years, and was just able to hop into the car quite easily, so I am not surprised about that one. Also, I heard it was just a one-off test and if it is just a couple of tests for other people I don't mind, as my main focus is to come back as a race driver.
"If there is an opportunity for testing that is race-driver related then we will do it, but at the moment we are just talking about a few other options. That is why I am not rushing to jump into a car immediately."
Q. Would you take a test driver deal if there was no guarantee of a race seat?
TS: "We are working on it at the moment as a pure race driver seat. That is our main target and objective, but a test driver deal will be considered if there is nothing else available. That is something I would have to think about much later on if everything else was shut down. Until then, I want to just wait."
Q. Is racing anywhere more important than holding out for a competitive car?
TS: "Of course every driver wants to drive at the front. I had a special and unique experience with Super Aguri in the last two and a half years, which helped a lot for me as well in terms of my approach to grands prix. Being at the back is not fun at all, but considering what all the team does to make that happen, you really appreciate driving the car flat out. Even if the car was a few seconds off the top pace, I made sure to give everything 100 per cent all the time.
"It's a challenge driving the car, in karting, F3, or F1. Everything with four wheels is the same; you have to give it 100 per cent all the time. Being at the front is nicer, but F1 is very much a team sport and part of the challenge is working together to make things better."
Q. Is it possible you could have to take a test deal for a year before being given the chance of a race seat?
TS: "If that is the case, then I will take it. If there was a chance to come back to F1 with a very competitive team then I would do everything I could."
Q. You have said your focus is on F1, did you have any offers from other categories?
TS: "Yes, Andrew (Gilbert-Scott, manager) had a few offers from the United States, in open-wheels and sportscars. It is nice to hear that kind of immediate reaction, and we are keeping open our options. We have told all the teams that we are currently concentrating on F1 but we will keep our connection with them. If everything else is gone then I will have to think about it, but at the moment I am just concentrating on F1."
Q. There are some suggestions that Super Aguri could be resurrected in the future. Could you play a part in that?
TS: "Daniel (Audetto, former managing director) and I still talk about it. In fact, some of the management called us recently to keep us updated. It was a sad moment we had to go through, but Super Aguri's spirit has always been never to give up. So anything possible that means we can be back again we will look at. I am free at the moment, so if there is an opportunity I can help."
Q. Looking back over the history of Super Aguri, do you view your time there with happiness for what you achieved or sadness with the way it ended?
TS: "Well, I think the project itself was such a sudden, immediate, pop-up project after 2005 that everyone did a fantastic job to make it happen. You couldn't have asked any more to make a team in 100 days to get us to the 2006 Bahrain Grand Prix.
"That was very special, as we brought the Arrows A23 and had to do a bit of tuning for the new regulations. We were six seconds off the top of the grid but we made it! And as you could see, our progress was so quick and in the F1 world that is very difficult. But I think the team did a good job, especially as 2006 was such a learning curve for the team.
"That curve continued into 2007, our second year, which I was very happy with. I was happy battling with other teams and the achievement we made - you could not have asked for any more.
"But the beginning of 2007 we hit difficulties due to the financial situation with SS United, and 2008 was even more difficult. I am not going to go into the details of that, but everybody worked flat out to keep going. With the Magma deal, everybody thought, including Honda, that it was going to happen. We were 99 per cent done and then just before we signed, the main investor pulled out. It was really unfortunate.
"Without that, if we had had the deal, we would have been reborn as a strong Super Aguri team. We would have had good financial support and be able to be stronger, and then even have the same car as Honda Racing. It was such a shame we had to stop rapidly like that."
Q. Will you be attending many more races this year?
TS: "I don't know yet. I am not going to go to grands prix until I really need it. If there is a meeting then I will pop into the grand prix but otherwise I am going to have a long break in Japan. I haven't been in Japan in the summer for a long time, so I will see my family and friends - and have some fan events. All my personal sponsors are still backing me so I hope we can make it happen to come back to F1 in the future."
Q. Do you feel confident you will be back?
TS: "I just hope really. There is no absolute confidence because there is nothing guaranteed, but you have to believe. If nothing happens then that is life, but at the moment we are working flat out to make it happen. So let's wait and see what we can announce in the future."