Toro Rosso: Naoki Yamamoto to make F1 debut in Japanese Grand Prix practice

Japan’s Naoki Yamamoto will make his Formula 1 debut when he drives a Toro Rosso in first practice at his home grand prix on Friday.

The 31-year-old reigning champion in Japan’s Super Formula and Super GT series will drive Pierre Gasly’s car.

Frenchman Gasly will return alongside Daniil Kvyat for the rest of the weekend at Suzuka.

Yamamoto is backed by Honda, Toro Rosso’s engine partner and the owner of the Japanese circuit.

In Super GT, he team-mates with 2009 Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button. Last year, the Briton said he thought Yamamoto was talented enough to be in F1.

Yamamoto said driving an F1 car had been “a dream of mine since I was a kid”, adding that he first watched them in action at Suzuka 27 years ago.

“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,” he said.

“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.

“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.”

Katsuhide Moriyama, head of brand and communications at Honda, said: “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 Formula 1.”

The senior Red Bull team, who also use Honda engines, have yet to confirm who will partner Max Verstappen next year, but motorsport adviser Helmut Marko has been quoted saying the seat is between Alexander Albon, who was promoted in place of Gasly in the summer, and the Frenchman.

Marko has also said Russian Kvyat will stay at Toro Rosso in 2020.

Honda have been planning their engine usage in recent races to ensure all four of their cars are in the best possible competitive shape for the home grand prix.

The race weekend faces the possibility of being affected by typhoon Hagibis, which is in the western Pacific Ocean and tracking towards Japan. Heavy rain and strong winds are projected for qualifying day on Saturday.

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