How Japan's first full-time F1 racer accelerated Tsunoda's rise

autosport.com -- Mar 25
AlphaTauri Formula 1 rookie Yuki Tsunoda’s meteoric rise up the ranks is well-documented, but less well known is the contribution of Japan’s first full-time grand prix racer to that progress.

From winning the Japanese Formula 4 title to earning an F1 driver in the space of three years, via standout campaigns in FIA Formula 3 and Formula 2 - it’s an impressive rate of progression by anybody’s standards.

But it could have all been quite different without the intervention of a certain Satoru Nakajima, who in 1987 became the first Japanese driver to complete a full season in F1 as Ayrton Senna’s team-mate at Lotus-Honda.

As well as running his own team in Super Formula and Super GT, Nakajima kept himself busy in the years following his F1 retirement as principal of the Suzuka Racing School (SRS), which over the years has churned out a considerable number of drivers that have gone on to represent Honda at the highest level - most notably 1997 graduate Takuma Sato.

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But Nakajima made perhaps his most important contribution to unearthing future Japanese talent in 2016, when Tsunoda graduated from the school.

Tsunoda was one of four finalists in 2016 that competed for two scholarships for a fully-funded season in Japanese F4 the following year and a prized place on the Honda junior scheme.

The others were Toshiki Oyu, Ukyo Sasahara and Teppei Natori, but Tsunoda missed out as the scholarships went to Oyu and Sasahara - the former having already a season in F4 under his belt and the latter having just come back to Japan after a spell racing in European junior single-seaters.

- autosport.com