The COVID-19 pandemic has diminished the worldwide contingent on Tremendous Method’s 2021 grid to only one driver, however it means prime skills in Japanese junior single-seaters, and the system itself, are being rewarded
Honda’s announcement that it will exit Method 1 on the finish of 2021 posed many questions, not least on how lengthy till it joins Method E, however the promotion of Honda-backed Method 2 star Yuki Tsunoda to an AlphaTauri drive masked a lot of the concern about the way it will have an effect on its help of younger Japanese drivers overseas and at residence.
The long-held goal to place a Japanese driver in a Honda-powered F1 automotive once more was completed because of Tsunoda, and you’ll guess he’ll stay on the grid even as soon as Honda’s title departs.
It’s not simply Tsunoda that’s turning heads on the highest ranges, as journey restrictions have diminished the variety of abroad drivers contesting Japan’s Tremendous Method and Tremendous GT collection and put the highlight again on the younger native skills.
SF is Japan’s prime single-seater collection, and whereas it makes use of spec chassis it has two completely different engine suppliers (Honda and Toyota), a gasoline flow-based overtaking system and Yokohama tyres that current very complicated challenges similar to but additionally very completely different to what drivers need to grasp in F1.
This weekend’s SF season opener takes place at Fuji Speedway, and there are three rookies specifically coming from Japan’s junior collection to be careful for:
Toyota junior Miyata [middle of lead image] has had one of the vital profitable junior careers you’ll be able to have domestically, successful the FIA Japanese Method 4 title twice in a row, in opposition to his present SF rivals and Tsunoda on each events in stacked fields, after which spending 4 seasons in Tremendous Method Lights (beforehand often known as Japanese Method 3) which culminated in a run of 12 wins from 17 races and a well-earned title in 2020.
He’s additionally been a trailblazer for the illustration of autism in motorsport throughout this time, and pushed solely for TOM’S.
That very same workforce is the one he drives for now in SF, and gave him his debut final yr as an alternative choice to ex-F1 driver Kazuki Nakajima. It was an unimaginable debut to say the least, as he made it to the entrance row in qualifying and earned two factors.
He misplaced a number of locations on the opening lap and spent his first race in visitors from thereon, however scored extra factors in ninth place and went one place higher when he was referred to as in to substitute once more at Autopolis. On each occassions he was racing within the supporting SF Lights on the similar time, which was an actual check of stamina and adaptableness.
It was no shock that after doing every thing he might within the help collection and greater than proving his worthiness in SF in 2020 that he was handed a full-time seat with the title-fighting TOM’S squad for 2021. Usually a rookie would go into one of many lesser-fancied groups, however Miyata has mainly are available in because the lead driver of what if usually Toyota’s main outfit, as team-mate Nakajima is anticipated to overlook races as soon as once more and ex-Ferrari junior Giuliano Alesi is tipped to switch him.
Sakaguchi [left of lead image] is the primary ever Method Regional Japan champion and like Miyata has had two stabs at SF already. Though neither really included a race begin.
In 2018 he was given the chance to substitute for F2 racer Nirei Fukuzumi at Crew Mugen for the Autopolis spherical, however heavy rain and diminished visibility meant the race was cancelled on Sunday morning. Then at Okayama final yr he changed the absent Kenta Yamashita at Kondo Racing however crashed on the warm-up lap and as soon as once more didn’t get to race.
And whereas Sakaguchi’s domination of FRJC’s depleted discipline denied him the chance to check his racecraft, he nonetheless had extra of an opportunity to indicate it in 2020 than Miyata did in SF Lights.
Typically he acquired too aggressive in battle with Miyata, however such had been the gaps that tended to look between the Dallara 320 vehicles after a number of laps that you may’t blame him for eager to get his strikes finished early. Like Miyata he spent a number of years within the collection, and got here second to his rival as a Honda junior in F4.
Fortunately the strategic parts of SF means racing can keep shut all through and never each potential cross can be a once-in-a-race alternative, and Sakaguchi’s promotion to a Toyota-powered seat at INGING reveals that not solely do Japan’s prime brass in motorsport think about his skill to ship the products within the races however it additionally validates the existence of FRJC.
Whereas going unbeaten in opposition to a tiny and normally low high quality grid in FRJC wasn’t so spectacular by itself, it bolstered Sakaguchi’s claims to a SF seat earlier than he both turned a sufferer of the ‘holding floor’ problem in SF Lights the place a fourth or fifth-year driver wins the title over a fourth-year driver and a third-year driver and so forth, or he left single-seaters solely.
He’s solely down for the season opener, however count on Toyota junior Kotaka [right of lead image] to enter spherical two at Suzuka in addition to he retains Kamui Kobayashi’s KCMG seat heat whereas the ex-F1 driver focuses on worldwide sportscar commitments.
Not like Miyata and Sakaguchi’s first SF probabilities, Kotaka won’t be doubling up in SF Lights this weekend and can as an alternative solely give attention to his step as much as the massive time.
He can be racing within the help collection this yr although, as he’s signed with TOM’S for an anticipated title assault. The excellent news is that even when he misses two rounds, team-mate and Japanese racing debutant Alesi may be pressured to overlook SF Lights races if he too will get a SF call-up and has to make it his precedence. It’s going to make the title battle very fascinating.
Kotaka has spent nearly the whole lot of his profession at TOM’S and so these within the SF paddock already understand how good he may be. He was third in Japanese F4 in 2018, fifth in SF Lights in 2019 after which third within the collection on his return. An oddity has stopped Kotaka from combating for titles in his profession to this point although, as he was barred from racing at Okayama for a number of years.
Will probably be fascinating to see what Kotaka will get from his debut, and whether or not he can persuade Toyota to make SF his 2022 residence.
The opposite rookies
Hiroki Otsu drives the Purple Bull-liveried Mugen automotive this yr after standing in for the meningitis-struck Tadasuke Makino ultimately yr’s season finale. The 26-year-old had been on the point of getting into SF a number of occasions earlier than, having been one among Honda’s main drivers within the junior ranks though by no means actually getting the standout outcomes to indicate for it.
Of the 4 inexperienced drivers heading to Fuji, it’s Otsu who has stood out probably the most in pre-season testing though he’s a driver whose profession trajectory lays firmly in Japan whereas his rookie rivals all harbour ambitions in programmes overseas; together with F1.
B-MAX Racing gained’t be at Fuji however it has signed teenager Yves Baltas for 2021. The American has expertise in Euroformula and Method Renault Eurocup, however his outcomes don’t recommend that when he does flip up in SF he can be a factors scorer.
With its lessened relevance as a proving floor for F1-focused skills (or those that the Japanese scene wish to head to F1 akin to sophomore SF stars Toshiki Oyu and Ukyo Sasahara), Method Scout gained’t report on the collection with the identical depth of protection because it did in 2020, however don’t be shocked if the Tremendous Method rookies nonetheless make headlines this yr.
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