The tight bond between Toro Rosso and Honda begins to emerge in full effect, as the Italian team declared it is open to field a Japanese driver in the future.
Now that Honda is directly linked to Milton-Keynes, it is logical to join forces in terms of talent development. Therefore, the Toro Rosso-Honda team represents the perfect F1 outlet for young Japanese drivers.
Nirei Fukuzumi and Tadasuke Makino are supported and bred by Honda in Formula 2, which would make them valid candidates for a F1 seat in the near future. Fukuzumi holds a 3rd place in the 2017 GP3 championship and has been linked to Red Bull in the past. He has not been a part of their junior programme, but his closeness to the outfit has him next in line, in case the team decides to welcome a Japanese racer in.
However, the two drivers still have to earn their superlicense. Fukuzumi currently possesses 15 superlicense points owing to his GP3 result and this year it would be crucial for him to make it to the top 4 in F2.
As Autosport reports, Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost said about Fukuzumi: "What we want is to have sooner or later a Japanese driver. Here, it is in his hands. He must show a good performance and then we will see."
The Japanese driver issue is also connected to the popularity factor. Formula 1 needs to receive a fair boost in Japan, as the focus of the Nipponese audience has recently shifted to different racing categories. In that sense, a local talent as part of their line-up would draw the attention of the public and consequently Formula 1 would largely benefit from it.
Honda motorsport boss Yamamoto confirmed it per Autosport: "It is very important for Honda to make Formula 1, and motorsport, more popular once again in Japan. In that sense it's really important to have an F1 driver."
"The F2 drivers are fighting for the championship, they have to get the superlicence. For sure, adding a team gives us a better opportunity to put a driver at other teams."
With his last remark, Yamamoto suggests that the partnership with Red Bull would also involve their support in terms of placing their pawns on the drivers' market. Now that Carlos Sainz is braced to stay at Renault after his 1-year loan expires and given Daniel Ricciardo's contractual situation is on the brink, having a Honda driver entering the championship would bridge the gap in case the Australian exits the team. That would allow a Toro Rosso driver (most likely to be Pierre Gasly) to move up to Red Bull and have his seat instantly occupied by the hypothetical Honda protege.