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Honda Says It Wants a Japanese Driver in F1

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Brendon Hartley

Brendon Hartley is likely the man who would be replaced in favor of a Japanese driver

The Honda-powered Toro Rosso team in Formula One currently fields Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley, both of whom have longstanding links to Red Bull Racing, the team’s parent company.

But Honda, who is currently in talks with Red Bull about providing the team with engines starting in 2019, says it would like to bring a Japanese driver into the sport—and could already have an idea of who that would be.

Honda currently supports two drivers in Formula 2, the series that feeds directly into F1: Nirei Fukuzumi and Tadasuke Makino. The former finished third in last year’s GP3 season and is already part of the Red Bull junior program, which makes him the logical choice for succeeding one of the Toro Rosso drivers, as the team already serves as a gateway into F1 for the organization.

When asked if Fukuzumi was an option for next season, Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost said the following: “Of course, there is the Honda link. And what we want is to have sooner or later a Japanese driver.” He then added that the decision over whether Fukuzumi would be picked was in the young driver’s hands. “He must show a good performance and then we will see.”

Meanwhile, Honda motorsport boss Masashi Yamamota claimed it was very important for Honda to have a Japanese driver in Formula 1 to help make the sport popular again in its home country. But should the powers that be decide to promote Fukuzumi, it would have to come at the expense of another driver.

The most likely victim currently appears to be Brendon Hartley, who, according to some sources, is actually not going to be around past the upcoming Monaco Grand Prix because of poor performances so far in 2018.

It wouldn’t be the first time Toro Rosso or Red Bull sacks a driver mid-season, though the timeline would be too early to bring in an unknown variable like Fukuzumi, and there is no clear alternative candidate who could come in and do the job better than Hartley could.

Sky Sports commentator Martin Brundle doesn’t think the New Zealander will be replaced so soon, but did emphasize that he needed good results and that the upcoming races in Monaco and Canada, which are historically chaotic, should provide decent opportunities for him to capitalize.