Christian Horner has said that Naoki Yamamoto is not being considered for a race seat at either Red Bull or Toro Rosso in the near future.
The Japanese driver drove a Formula 1 car for the first time ever in FP1 at Suzuka and performed impressively, going less than a tenth slower than Daniil Kvyat in the same car, although he was on the softer, quicker tyre to the Russian.
“He’s done a very good job for his first session in a Formula 1 car,” Horner told Sky Sports F1.
“I think he acquitted himself extremely well. He’s had a very successful career racing over here and with Jenson [Button] in the GTs.
Yamamoto is the current champion of Japan’s Super Formula and also won the Super GT Championship alongside Jenson Button, who speaks highly of the 31-year old.
Importantly, he now has enough superlicense points to allow him to drive in Formula 1, leading to speculation that he’s being considered for a seat in one of the Honda supplied teams for next season, but the Red Bull team principal says this is not the case.
“It’s a circuit he knows extremely well, he’s had a very successful career racing over here with Jenson in the GTs,” Horner added.
“He doesn’t fit the criteria [for a race seat at Red Bull or Toro Rosso] at the moment, but he’s certainly worth giving a run and having a look at today.”
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Super Formula charger Naoko Yamamoto is expected to make his F1 debut next weekend at Suzuka where the Japanese driver will run with Toro Rosso in Friday’s first practice session.
Yamamoto’s presence behind the wheel of the Faenza-based outfit’s STR14 has yet to be confirmed by the team, but the 31-year-old driver apparently made the announcement on Toro Rosso’s Youtube channel although the video has since been deleted.
A Honda protégé, Yamamoto’s credentials include two Super Formula titles – in 2013 and 2018 – and a Japanese Super GT championship conquered with Jenson Button in 2018.
Button often speaks highly of his Team Kunimitsu Super GT teammate, underscoring the level and diversity of Yamamoto’s talent.
“I personally feel this guy should be in F1,” Button said last year. “Whether he wants to or not, that’s my opinion.
“So [he’s] champion in Super Formula, champion in Super GT. The wealth of experience from different types of racing all of this helps when you find yourself under pressure at the top.”
It’s obviously late in the day for Yamamoto who, at 31-years-old, is no longer a spring chicken. But with Honda’s support, a familiar track and the guaranteed fervor of the local crowd, Naoki will have a good opportunity to make the most of his F1 outing next weekend.
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