Honda protégé and GP2 Series race-winner Nobuharu Matsushita has been awarded a role as a test and development driver with the McLaren-Honda team.
“This season I am ecstatic to be joining the McLaren-Honda F1 team as a test and development driver,” he said of his appointment.
“To step into the world of Formula 1 fulfils a boyhood dream, and is a huge step forward in my career. I will do the utmost to help the race team on the track, by gathering data to feed back into the development and set-up of the car through simulator work.”
“Nobu’s first season racing in Europe showed great promise – he produced some extremely impressive performances, and with experience and consistency, will surely build on that potential in 2016,” added McLaren racing director Eric Boullier.
“His position as a McLaren-Honda test and development driver will be extremely important – he’ll underline and corroborate the learning we acquire at the track, and will play a key role in improving our performance throughout 2016.”
The 22-year-old Japanese driver spent six years in karting before graduating to single-seater racing in 2011, dominating the Formula Challenge Japan mono-series in 2012 to clinch the title.
In 2013 he moved into the high-profile All-Japan Formula 3 Championship with the Honda-run HFDP Racing team. After finishing fifth in his debut season, he stayed on with the team in 2014 ad won the title.
He graduated to the GP2 Series in 2015, joining the prestigious ART Grand Prix team as teammate to McLaren reserve driver and championship favourite Stoffel Vandoorne. He season started promisingly in his maiden outing at Bahrain where he qualified on the front row alongside Vandoorne, but faded to tenth.
Results were lean until Austria, where he returned to the points with fourth in the Feature Race and went one better with his maiden podium finish in the Sprint Race at the Red Bull Racing. His highlight of the season came at the Sprint Race at the Hungaroring, where he led home teammate Vandoorne to claim his first race win.
He finished ninth overall in the Drivers’ Championship standings – it was a solid result for a rookie driver, but with Vandoorne clinching the crown and finishing the year with a near 300-point margin to Matsushita, it was indicative of both how good Vandoorne is and how far Matsushita has to grow.
Matsushita will dovetail his McLaren duties with a second season in the GP2 Series at the ART Grand Prix team, where he will be joined by Russian racer Sergey Soritkin.
Performing strongly in his sophomore year will do him no harm at all now that he is in the pocket with McLaren and Honda. The latter will be motivated to exploring options to find him a Formula 1 seat in 2017, although the fact that it cannot be at McLaren (which is expected to field an Alonso/Vandoorne pairing next year) means it will need to supply a second F1 team.
Images via GP2 Series Media and McLaren Media Centre