Honda is rebuilding its reputation at Toro Rosso and could be rolling out the carpet for a Japanese driver
Is it safe to say that in terms of overall reputation, Honda has emerged from the McLaren-Honda partnership better off than the Woking squad? Whilst the Japanese supplier has endured a mixed start to the 2018 campaign with Pierre Gasly’s dizzying drive to fourth in Bahrain the highlight so far, Honda isn’t exactly in bad shape. With the genuine prospect of a couple of Red Bull-Honda’s on the horizon for 2019, Honda’s path to embedding itself within F1 is clear.
In fact, Honda has been doing a good enough job at Toro Rosso that speculation surrounding the team falls on the driver line-up rather than power unit hiccups. Brendan Hartley is apparently under pressure, but for the moment it’s all just speculation. There were rumours of Pascal Wehrlein making a return, and now it is the name of Honda protege Nirei Fukuzumi being linked to the first step of the Red Bull Formula 1 family ladder. In response to Autosport asking about Fukuzumi emerging as a Toro Rosso driver, team boss Franz Tost said:
“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.”
Fukuzumi needs to finish at least fourth overall in his F2 campaign this year if he is to attain enough points for a superlicense. He’s currently a lowly 18th after five races, this position in the championship at face value not telling of how unlucky he has been in some instances.
There is a huge, passionate F1 following in Japan - we’ve all seen the creative spectrum of race day headwear! Honda motorsport boss Masashi Yamamoto also alluded to the likely future of Toro Rosso one day fielding a Japanese driver. He told Autosport:
“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.”
Can somebody please get in touch with Kamui Kobayashi?