Honda are giving two of its most outstanding single-seater prospects a massive push towards a promotion into the Formula 1 World Championship, as they have placed Honda Formula Dream Project (HFDP) drivers Nobuharu Matsushita and Nirei Fukuzumi into the Japanese Super Formula Championship in 2018.
Fukuzumi makes his Super Formula debut in the Red Bull Team Mugen car formerly driven by Pierre Gasly, as part of a double campaign that will see the 20-year-old also compete in the FIA Formula 2 Championship for Arden International.
Seven of Honda’s eight available driver slots were announced over the weekend, with one vacancy, at B-Max Racing Team, still yet to be determined.
After three years in Formula 2, Nobuharu Matsushita moves back to Japan in his last push to graduate to Formula 1.
The 24-year-old from Saitama will join Tomoki Nojiri at DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing, for whom McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne – Matsushita’s former F2 teammate in 2015 – raced for in 2016.
In three seasons in Formula 2, Matsushita took four sprint race victories and nine podium finishes, finishing a career-best 6th in the championship in 2017. He was also the 2014 All-Japan Formula 3 Champion, overhauling Kenta Yamashita over the stretch run of the championship.
He was a former test driver for McLaren and Sauber, and was briefly linked to Scuderia Toro Rosso – but does not yet have the requisite FIA Super License points to advance to F1.
Fukuzumi, meanwhile, is arguably best-positioned to earn an F1 promotion after a breakthrough GP3 Series campaign that saw him finish 3rd in the championship with two feature race victories, behind only George Russell and Jack Aitken in the championship tables.
A one-time entrant in Super GT with Autobacs Racing Team Aguri in 2015, Fukuzumi will drive the #15 Red Bull Team Mugen car alongside his teammate, 2013 Super Formula champion Naoki Yamamoto – who will carry the Motul colours.
Fukuzumi will also be driving for Arden Motorsport as he steps up to Formula 2, in a grid already set to contain highly coveted prospects including Russell and Lando Norris.
The 2nd and 3rd rounds of the Super Formula Championship at Autopolis and Sportsland Sugo will however clash with the 3rd and 4th rounds of Formula 2 at Barcelona and Monaco – Honda will need to decide which series they will prioritize for their ace driver who turns 21 on January 24th.
The rest of the Honda Super Formula lineup includes Narain Karthikeyan, who returns for his sixth season in the series – and at 41 years old, will be the series’ oldest driver. He’ll once again drive for TCS Nakajima Racing, joined by new teammate Takuya Izawa.
Real Racing will once again field a single-car entry for long time driver Koudai Tsukakoshi.
This leaves only the #50 B-Max Racing seat open, which has been linked to veteran Takashi Kogure, Daiki Sasaki, or the reigning All-Japan Formula 3 Champion, Mitsunori Takaboshi.