Toyota’s secret plan: Grooming future F1 stars with new signings

Toyota is strategically positioning itself to foster a new generation of drivers with Formula 1 ambitions, evident in their latest moves in the motorsport arena. Recently, Toyota-backed driver Ryo Hirakawa joined McLaren as a new F1 test driver, sparking speculation about a potential Toyota-McLaren collaboration. However, this rumor was dispelled as McLaren extended its engine partnership with Mercedes.

Despite this, Toyota’s commitment to nurturing talent is clear with their support for reigning Super Formula champion Ritomo Miyata, 24, who will join Rodin Carlin’s F2 team in 2024. This move was underscored by the presence of former Toyota-powered F1 driver Kazuki Nakajima, now part of Toyota’s motorsport management team, at Miyata’s first F2 test in Abu Dhabi.

Nakajima, speaking to as-web.jp, emphasized Toyota’s dedication to supporting drivers. “Toyota is supporting drivers as they aim for greater heights,” he said. This initiative, Nakajima noted, is possible thanks to Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda, referred to affectionately as Morizo. While some speculate this could be a precursor to Toyota’s full return to F1, either as an engine supplier or a works team, Nakajima clarifies, “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.”

Reflecting on Toyota’s driver training philosophy, Nakajima explained that while it previously focused on F1 during Toyota’s active participation as a works team, the current approach is more driver-centric. “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.”

Nakajima also acknowledges the competitive dynamic with Honda, which has found success in Formula 1. He hopes Toyota’s efforts will create new opportunities for Japanese drivers. “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,” Nakajima said, expressing a desire to diversify the paths available to aspiring Japanese drivers.

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