Honda protegé Makino finishes first European F3 season strong

Tadasuke Makino took the Autobacs Super GT Series by storm in 2016, first appearing with the Cars Tokai Dream28 squad in GT300 and putting in a stellar performance in his debut at the Suzuka 1000km. From there, he finished out the season in GT500, and became the youngest driver to ever finish on the premier class podium in his first race in a Honda NSX-GT.

In 2017, Makino left for Europe to compete in the FIA European Formula 3 Championship for Hitech GP. And after initial struggles, Makino finished out his first full European campaign on a high – including a maiden podium finish – this weekend at the Hockenheimring.

Makino finished fifth in last year’s All-Japan Formula 3 Championship driving for TODA Racing, earning high praise for overperforming relative to the strength of his equipment as a rookie in just his second full season of car racing.

For 2017, Makino was placed in the European F3 Championship, on the ladder to Formula 1 along with fellow Honda Formula Dream Project (HFDP) drivers Nobuharu Matsushita and Nirei Fukuzumi. At Hitech GP, he would race alongside Estonian Ralf Aron, Briton Jake Hughes, and Russian Nikita Mazepin, all in their second seasons.

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© Hitech GP

The early part of Makino’s 2017 campaign was fraught with hardship. He had to wait until his ninth race of the season, the finale at the prestigious Pau Grand Prix, to score his first points of the season with a seventh-place finish.

Makino’s side of the garage appeared to turn the corner at the fifth race meeting at the Norisring street circuit in Germany, where he started the season with an eighth-place finish. However, while racing for position in the third and final race of the weekend, Makino clashed with Harrison Newey at the first corner, ending his race.

Things would only go from bad to worse as Makino was sidelined for several weeks with a broken wrist, forcing him to miss the sixth round at Spa-Francorchamps – as well as shutting out the possibility of a Super GT return at the Suzuka 1000km (which he did attend as a spectator).

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© Hitech GP

But after returning at Circuit Park Zandvoort in the Netherlands, Makino finished the season strong. Seventh place, followed by fourth place at the next round at the Nürburgring, was his first time finishing in the points in multiple races in a weekend. He even finished ahead of the eventual series champion Lando Norris along the way.

Then came his breakthrough drive, on 23-24 at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria. Makino started the weekend with a fifth-place finish in race one, then in the third and final race of the season, he finished third, his first European F3 podium finish and, ultimately, his best result of 2017.

“First I must say a big thank you to Hitech GP and Honda for supporting me.” Makino said after securing his maiden FIA Formula 3 podium. “This weekend my car felt really nice and had good performance. I started the third race on used tyres so my handling was impeded from the beginning. But my race engineer told me not to give up and to give it my upmost. I was very lucky in race three and to get my first podium is an excellent feeling. I will push more at Hockenheim and we will see if I can repeat the result!”

Ultimately, at the season finale this weekend at the Hockenheim, Makino finished his season with two ninth-place finishes, bringing his total to 57 points, and earning him 15th in the championship. Over the course of those final twelve races of the season since returning from injury, Makino outscored his teammate Aron, as well as reigning German Formula 4 champion Joey Mawson, and second-generation drivers Mick Schumacher and Pedro Piquet.

A strong finish to the season bodes well for Makino’s chances to continue on the journey to F1, though Honda’s tumultuous run in F1 and recent divorce from McLaren makes much of the journey ahead cloudy. Will Makino continue on for a second season in European F3? Will he move up to the GP3 Series in preparation for the revamped International Formula 3 Championship in 2019, or even stepping right up to Formula 2? Or will Honda elect to reassign him back to Japan?

We’ll know in the months to come – but 20-year-old Makino has much to be proud of a strong turnaround in 2017.

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