Subscribe

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Motorsport prime

Discover premium content
Subscribe

Edition

Australia

Can Honda's struggling sophomore save his season at Suzuka?

Honda driver Hiroki Otsu was handed a big chance to burnish his Super Formula credentials this year at Dandelion Racing, but time is running out for him to prove he deserves to keep his place.

Hiroki Otsu, DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING

Hiroki Otsu, DOCOMO TEAM DANDELION RACING

Masahide Kamio

Little was expected of Otsu when he made his debut in the Japanese single-seater series last year for Team Mugen, but that all changed when he won a race, earned Rookie of the Year honours and replaced Drago Corse-bound Nirei Fukuzumi at the title-winning Dandelion team for 2022.

Having been second-quickest in post-season testing at Suzuka last year, Otsu would go on to outpace his new teammate Tadasuke Makino in both pre-season tests, raising hopes that he could be something of a dark horse for title honours.

Certainly, after the final pre-season test at Fuji, Otsu was brimming with confidence for the opening double-header at the same track, telling Motorsport.com of his targets: “At the very least, I want to be on the podium twice and win once.”

But in much warmer conditions of the race weekend, the 28-year-old could only muster a best result of seventh, setting the tone for what has so far been a lacklustre campaign.

With just the Suzuka double-header left this season, Otsu sits a lowly 14th in the standings on less than a third of the points tally of his super-consistent teammate Makino.

“[The Dandelion car] is a good car, it’s easy to drive, but the improvement from Q1 to Q2 has been lacklustre, and we haven’t been able to adjust the car well in difficult conditions,” Otsu told Motorsport.com. “In most races, that’s been the main problem.

“We haven’t made the most of our chances when we’ve had them, so that’s something I need to work on. You can’t win unless you are able to adapt to any situation.

“In the opening round, I was confident that I could do it, but I would like to put those thoughts aside for now and rethink things in order to become stronger.”

 

The only time Otsu has really looked like a front-runner so far this year was at Sugo, as he qualified a strong third behind Tomoki Nojiri and Sacha Fenestraz, but even then he ended up finishing fifth behind Makino, who was on a different strategy.

Next time out at Fuji he qualified a respectable fifth in the rain, his second-best showing after Sugo, but his race pace let him down in a big way: despite pitting on the same lap as Nojiri, Otsu contrived to finish down in 15th place and last of the finishers.

But the nadir arguably came in the second race of August’s Motegi double-header. While Makino took his second podium of the season, Otsu qualified a season-low 17th and could only progress as far as 13th in the race on a track where overtaking is always tough.

“Makino and I always share data and we can refer to our respective strengths and weaknesses, but our driving styles are a little different,” continued Otsu. “Makino has been very consistent whereas I’ve had more ups and downs, which is something to work on."

With just one more two-race weekend remaining this season at Suzuka, Otsu knows that a strong showing at the Japanese Grand Prix venue will be vital to his future.

“I want to get good results at Suzuka, which is a circuit I’m good at,” he said. “Of course, I’m aiming for pole position and a victory. Because I know I have to get good results, there’s a feeling of impatience, but I want to steadily forward step-by-step.”

 

Driver decisions are often taken in Japanese racing based purely on results without examining the context too closely, and there was a feeling that his Rookie of the Year status was what swung Honda towards giving Otsu the vacant berth at Dandelion.

Similarly, a lack of headline results this year could count against Otsu when it comes to 2023. After all, he is one of only three Honda drivers without at least a podium to his name so far this season along with Team Goh’s Ren Sato and Fukuzumi, who was last year’s series runner-up and is driving for a team that hadn’t scored points until this year.

Sato’s fortunes are bound up in what Red Bull decides to do with its junior drivers next year, but there's also a degree of uncertainty elsewhere in the Honda stable. For example, Mugen has its second car, currently occupied by Ukyo Sasahara, under loan from B-Max Racing and it's unclear whether it will be able to keep it in 2023.

Should either Sato or Sasahara need new seats in 2023, then Dandelion could be an option. Against such a backdrop, Otsu has one final chance to prove to Honda that he truly belongs in Super Formula at Suzuka later this month.

 

Be part of Motorsport community

Join the conversation
Previous article Toyota veteran Oshima unsure about Super Formula future
Next article How Vandoorne helped shape Super Formula's new king

Top Comments

There are no comments at the moment. Would you like to write one?

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Motorsport prime

Discover premium content
Subscribe

Edition

Australia