Toro Rosso and Honda have expressed their desire to see a Japanese Formula One driver racing for the team in the near future.
As part of Toro Rosso’s partnership with Honda – which commenced at the start of the year – both parties are keen to run a Japanese driver.
Honda currently backs two drivers running in Formula One’s feeder series, the Formula Two championship, Nirei Fukuzumi and Tadasuke Makino.
Owing to the uncertainty over Red Bull’s – and therefore Toro Rosso’s – driver line-up for next season, at least one seat could be available in the feeder team next season.
Question marks still remain over Daniel Ricciardo’s future, whilst Carlos Sainz is not guaranteed to return to the Red Bull family once his season-long loan at Renault is complete.
Hypothetically this could see either Pierre Gasly or Brendon Hartley promoted to the senior team. However, at this stage Gasly’s performances would likely see him get the nod, which would leave one seat free at Toro Rosso.
When team principal Franz Tost was asked if Fukuzumi was a candidate for a drive at Toro Rosso in 2019, he is quoted by Motorsport.com as saying: “Of course, there is the Honda link. And what we want is to have sooner or later a Japanese driver.
“Here, it is in his hands. He must show a good performance and then we will see.”
Honda motorsport boss Masashi Yamamoto also told Motorsport.com: “It is very important for Honda to make Formula 1, and motorsport, more popular once again in Japan.
“In that sense it’s really important to have an F1 driver. The F2 drivers are fighting for the championship, they have to get the superlicence.
“For sure, adding a team gives us a better opportunity to put a driver at other teams.”
Fukuzumi is signed up as a Red Bull athlete, although not an official Red Bull junior. However, he has one point to his name in this season’s Formula Two championship – three less than Makino – and would require a championship position of fourth in order to gain enough super license points to be promoted next season.