Honda junior Nirei Fukuzumi has revealed that a gearbox issue was to blame for his retirement from Super Formula’s season-opening round at Suzuka.
Fukuzumi had qualified on the front row of the grid on his debut Super Formula appearance, only 0.080s behind Mugen teammate and 2013 champion Naoki Yamamoto.
Although he couldn’t keep lightly-fuelled Koudai Tsukakoshi at bay during the opening laps of the race, he was comfortably running in a podium position when he mysteriously slowed down on lap 33, shortly after making his sole pitstop.
Efforts to get his Honda-powered SF14 car up to full speed failed and the 21-year-old was eventually forced to park the car at the side of the track.
“It was my first Super Formula start, but I was able to do it calmly,” Fukuzumi told Motorsport.com. “And Yamamoto made a very good start too, so it was nice that I could run behind him in a Mugen 1-2.
“The balance of my car was not bad, but I could not up the pace. And I was into my [pit] box by the time my pace improved a little bit because the fuel went lighter."
“An issue emerged when I exited the hairpin after pitting. It was impossible to downshift. Before the clutch had some problem, but then I couldn’t do anything.
“It seemed that there was something wrong with the connection of the steering wheel. I think it was simply an issue, and the team and I couldn’t have done anything.
“Even though I didn’t push hard and didn’t increase my pace, I had a good chance of a podium. However, I was completely beaten by Yamamoto.
“Although the podium was on cards, there was nothing I could have done about the issue.”
Fukuzumi endured an equally frustrating start to his Formula 2 season earlier this month in Bahrain, where a DRS issue left him down in 18th place in the feature race.
He recovered from the setback in the sprint race to finish eighth, bagging a solitary point.
“Even in F2, in Race 1 had another issue,” he said. “And here again, I ran into a problem. It seems like a challenging year. I'll turn over a new leaf and do my best again.”