Sato Sheds 'Wild Man' Image

Japan's Takuma Sato believes he has shed his "wild man" image and deserves to be taken seriously in the Formula One paddock

Sato Sheds 'Wild Man' Image

Once thought of as an accident waiting to happen, the BAR driver is targeting a solid finish in Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang after a frustrating opening race in Melbourne. Sato and British teammate Jenson Button came into the pits on the last lap to enable them to use fresh engines in Malaysia.

"Melbourne was a weird race," Sato told Reuters on Thursday. "But we will both be using a new engine and know we must improve. Personally I've set my sights higher this year. I've got more experience and I feel I belong in the top group of drivers."

Sato won 34 points last season to overtake the total number of points previously taken by Japanese drivers in the history of Formula One and earned his first podium finish. But the 28-year-old was the butt of jokes earlier in his Formula One career after several high-speed crashes.

"I'm definitely more mature now," said Sato, who was classified 14th in Melbourne with Button 11th. "I know how to adjust to situations better now and I can use my energy in a more positive way to help the team. After you finish on the podium you come into races with a different mindset. I know I can live with the top drivers now."

Before Sato, only Ukyo Katayama, Satoru Nakajima, Shinji Nakano and Aguri Suzuki had finished in the points. Others, such as Taki Inoue, have been a liability.

Sato's success in helping Honda-powered BAR finish second behind all-conquering Ferrari in the Constructors' Championship last year has dispelled the theory about Japanese drivers. While his own reputation grows, however, Sato's humour remains intact.

"This weekend we must get both cars across the finishing line," he said. "My priority will be just to avoid getting towed back to the garage."

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