Honda driver Naoki Yamamoto will drive for Toro Rosso during FP1 at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.
Yamamoto won the Super Formula and SuperGT championships last season, becoming the first driver to win both titles in the same year since 2004. In doing so, the 31-year-old also secured enough points for a Formula 1 Super License, and after missing the DTM and SuperGT crossover at Hockenheim last weekend – where team-mate Jenson Button drove – it has been confirmed Yamamoto will make an FP1 run at Suzuka in place of Pierre Gasly.
“First of all, I would like to thank Scuderia Toro Rosso, Red Bull and of course Honda for giving me this great opportunity,” Yamamoto said. “I am delighted that I will get to drive a Formula 1 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 Formula 1 cars in action 27 years ago.”
Honda is hoping Yamamoto’s run will improve him as a driver and serve as inspiration to young Japanese drivers of the future, as there hasn’t been a representative from Japan on the grid since Kamui Kobayashi in 2014. Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost says Yamamoto’s recent record and experience at Suzuka makes him well-prepared for the challenge this weekend.
“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,” Tost said. “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.”