Yamamoto set for FP1 outing with Red Bull/Toro Rosso
Super Formula ace Naoki Yamamoto appears likely to make his Formula 1 debut this season by driving in a Friday practice session ahead of a grand prix.
The defending Super Formula champion and current standings leader is eligible for a superlicence. His 2018 title triumph came alongside winning Japan's Super GT championship and follows his first Super Formula crown in 2013.
Though he turned 31 this month and has never raced outside of Asia, both of which are obstacles to a late move to F1 full-time, Honda is keen to place him in a car for a grand prix practice session.
A Toro Rosso outing for Yamamoto at the Japanese Grand Prix would be most appropriate given his extensive Suzuka experience, while it would also be a boost for Honda and the race promoter, and allow an initial assessment of his capability in an F1 car.
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Yamamoto comfortably satisfies the requirement for an outright superlicence, which should simplify the process of becoming eligible to drive in FP1.
If he needed to obtain a free-practice superlicence he would need to drive at least 300km in "a representative Formula 1 car consistently at racing speeds", which would mean a private run in a car from 2017 or earlier as all testing opportunities for current machinery have passed.
Honda has made it clear it wants to see a Japanese driver race in F1 again.
The last Japanese driver in F1 was Kamui Kobayashi in 2014, while Honda last had a homegrown driver behind the wheel of one of its cars when Takuma Sato raced for the Super Aguri team in the 2008 Spanish Grand Prix.
However, Honda's highest-placed proteges on the F1 ladder have so far failed to secure the necessary superlicence points for Honda to take advantage of its relationship with Red Bull and its junior team Toro Rosso.
Nobuharu Matsushita has returned to Formula 2 this season and won in Austria, but is only eighth in the championship.
"Unless they win the championship, or get that kind of very good result, they cannot be in F1," Honda F1 managing director Masashi Yamamoto told Motorsport.com of its current juniors.
"We have some drivers in Super Formula. Naoki Yamamoto is leading the championship. Considering the current F1 trend, he's a bit old. It used to be alright in the old days!
"It might not suit the current situation but, including him, we want somebody to put into FP1 somewhere during the year. We are continuing discussions with Red Bull and Toro Rosso to talk about that opportunity."
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