Super Formula star Naoki Yamamoto put in an impressive display for Toro Rosso during his maiden Formula 1 outing on Friday at Suzuka as he became the first Japanese driver to appear on a grand prix weekend for nearly five years.

Reigning Super Formula and Super GT champion Yamamoto was given the chance to appear in FP1 at Suzuka via Toro Rosso’s engine partner, Honda, taking over Pierre Gasly’s car for the session.

Yamamoto even apologised to Gasly for taking his seat. The pair know each other following Gasly’s time in Super Formula through 2017 when they were teammates at Team Mugen.

After a tentative first few laps getting used to the more powerful Toro Rosso STR14 F1 car, Yamamoto quickly got on the pace at a circuit he knows well from his racing career, getting 30 laps under his belt in total.

Despite only finishing the session P17, Yamamoto was able to lap within one-tenth of a second of full-time Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat’s best time, as well as offering valuable feedback to the team.

“I spent the session getting used to the car, the power is amazing! I was very surprised, I have never felt such power before, so that was the biggest difference between Super Formula and Formula 1,” Yamamoto said.

“I learnt a few things about the car and the balance, and I gave as much feedback as possible to the team. This is my home Grand Prix and there are a lot of fans coming to Suzuka, even for FP1 on a Friday! I was really surprised and I would like to say thank you very much to all of the Honda and Toro Rosso fans.

“For sure I wanted to have a better result than 17th, but the most important thing is that I didn’t crash and I provided good information for the engineers. I wish the team a great result this weekend, especially Pierre as he gave me his car – I am grateful to him.”

Despite Yamamoto’s impressive display and eligibility for an FIA Super License to race in F1, it seems unlikely the Japanese driver will enter contention for a drive. Red Bull F1 chief Christian Horner said on Friday that Yamamoto “doesn’t fit the criteria at the moment” for a seat with Toro Rosso.

Yamamoto’s attention will now turn back to his Super Formula and Super GT commitments. He currently leads the Super Formula standings ahead of the season finale at Suzuka in two weeks’ time.

 

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