Reigning Super Formula and Super GT champion Naoki Yamamoto will make his FP1 debut in F1 Japanese GP for Toro Rosso Honda in place of Pierre Gasly.
With limited on-track testing at hand, Honda has been trying to have one of their drivers in a F1 car for some time now in the FP1 session. Since last year, the name of Yamamoto has been doing rounds, especially with him winning multiple titles.
Not only did he nail the single-seater challenge in Super Formula, but also in the GT racing in Super GT with Jenson Button as his teammate. He is fighting for the Super Formula title again this year, but he and Button won’t be able to defend their Super GT crown.
Amid the busy schedule, Yamamoto has been attending simulator sessions as well in the Red Bull facility to prepare for his maiden FP1 run with Toro Rosso in this weekend’s Japanese GP at Suzuka, which the team confirmed on Monday.
The 31-year-old will replace Gasly, to be alongside Daniil Kvyat. It is a big win for Honda, who are also trying to nurture a talent in F1. As such, Yamamoto looks the best bet but age is not on his side and none of the other young drivers looks supreme.
“First of all, I would like to thank Scuderia Toro Rosso, Red Bull and of course Honda for giving me this great opportunity,” said Yamamoto. “I am delighted that I will get to drive a F1 car this weekend, something which has been a dream of mine since I was a kid.
“To get this chance at Suzuka, a very important circuit for all Japanese racing drivers, in front of such a big crowd of Japanese fans, will make the experience even more special. I have prepared as well as possible for this, spending time as part of the Toro Rosso team at several Grand Prix weekends and I have also worked in the Red Bull simulator.
“My main aim in FP1 will be to do a good job for the team, gathering data and information which will be useful for them over the weekend. On a personal note, I want to enjoy the experience of driving an F1 car as much as possible and I will be trying my very best to get the most out of it.
“It will be a special moment and I’m glad I will get to share it with the fans at this amazing race track, where I first watched F1 cars in action 27 years ago.” Team principal Franz Tost welcomed Yamamoto in the team:
“We are very pleased to have a Japanese driver here in Suzuka driving our STR Honda, and we are sure that Naoki san will enjoy the laps in FP1 on one of the greatest race tracks in the world. He is a talented driver, being the reigning champion in Japan’s two most important race series, and he also knows the Suzuka circuit very well.
“Naoki san has spent several European races as part of our team this year, getting to know the engineers he will work with this weekend and he has also spent time in our simulator. I am sure that all the fans in the grandstands will enjoy seeing a Japanese driver taking part in the Japanese Grand Prix weekend.”
And finally, Honda’s Katsuhide Moriyama added: “We are pleased that Japanese fans will now get the opportunity to see Yamamoto, a Honda supported Japanese driver at the wheel of a current F1 car at our own Suzuka circuit, as part of the Japanese Grand Prix weekend. I would like to thank Toro Rosso and Red Bull for giving Yamamoto this great opportunity.
“We hope Naoki makes the most of this opportunity, that he learns from it and that it helps him as a racing driver. We also hope that seeing Yamamoto on track, will serve as an inspiration to young Japanese drivers, so that in the near future, we can once again have Japanese drivers competing in F1.”
Yamamoto is not unfamiliar to the F1 paddock as the Japanese racer has been to few grand prix already. He will be the first Japanese driver since Kamui Kobayashi’s last stint in 2014 with Caterham to drive during an official F1 session.
Check out the latest from Super Formula