Toyota putting more drivers on road to F1
"I hope that this will become an opportunity for that to change"
Toyota has put a second driver on course for a potential future in Formula 1.
Recently, with McLaren signing the Toyota-backed Ryo Hirakawa as a new F1 test driver, it was rumoured the British team might be eyeing a future with Toyota power.
That proved wide of the mark, with McLaren ultimately inking a new long-term customer engine deal with Mercedes.
However, Toyota is further ramping up its Formula 1 presence with another key signing - reigning Super Formula champion Ritomo Miyata, 24, with Rodin Carlin’s F2 team for 2024.
Watching his first F2 test in Abu Dhabi recently was former Toyota-powered Formula 1 driver Kazuki Nakajima, who is now part of Toyota’s motorsport management team.
"Toyota is supporting drivers as they aim for greater heights," the former Williams driver told as-web.jp. "This has been made possible by Morizo," Nakajima added, referring to Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda.
Some even think it’s a precursor to Toyota potentially launching a full return to Formula 1 - either as an engine supplier or perhaps with another works team.
"This has nothing to do with whether or not Toyota will be involved in F1, but rather that we want to support drivers aiming for F1," Nakajima insists.
"Originally, Toyota’s driver training was at a time when Toyota was active in F1 as a works team, so I think F1 activities were the focus. Currently, the training philosophy is ’for the driver’.
"It is true that Toyota has not been in F1 for a while, so F1 was removed from Toyota’s training system. However, Morizo always had the idea of putting the driver first, and I think that is now taking shape."
He admits that with great Japanese rival Honda now doing so well in Formula 1, Toyota is keen to open up a new stream for Japanese drivers to aim for.
"I myself have competed in F1 and WEC, so I personally don’t have a preference between the two," said Nakajima.
"However, since Toyota is in WEC and Honda is in F1, I think it was natural for young drivers to think, ’If you’re aiming for F1, Honda is the way to go.’ So I hope that this will become an opportunity for that to change."