(Reuters) – Honda-backed Japanese Naoki Yamamoto will take part in a Formula One grand prix weekend for the first time on Friday when he drives a Toro Rosso in opening practice at his home Suzuka circuit.
Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso are powered by Honda and Suzuka is owned by the Japanese manufacturer. The last Japanese to race in Formula One was Kamui Kobayashi with now-defunct Caterham in 2014.
Yamamoto, 31, is reigning champion in Japanese Super Formula and the Super GT touring car series, where he has partnered 2009 Formula One world champion Jenson Button.
His age rules him out, however, as a realistic race prospect for a team that develops and feeds young talent to the main Red Bull outfit.
“It will be a special moment and I’m glad I will get to share it with the fans at this amazing race track, where I first watched Formula One cars in action 27 years ago,” he said.
Yamamoto will take Pierre Gasly’s car for the session before handing it back to the Frenchman for the rest of the weekend.
“We hope Naoki makes the most of this opportunity, that he learns from it and that it helps him as a racing driver,” said Katsuhide Moriyama, Honda’s head of brand operations in a statement.
“We also hope that seeing Yamamoto on track will serve as an inspiration to young Japanese drivers, so that in the near future we can once again have Japanese drivers competing in Formula One.”
Honda-backed Nobuharu Matsushita is competing in Formula Two this season while Yuki Tsunoda is a race winner in Formula Three.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Christian Radnedge)