In the 2023 Japanese FIA F4 series, three youngsters belonging to HFDP (Honda Formula Dream Project), namely Yusuke Mitsui (Born on April 21, 2002, 21-years old), Yuto Nomura (Ditto, Nov. 12, 2005, 17-years old) and Tosei Moriyama (Ditto, Jan. 10, 2003, 20-years old), are to set for the gateway opening up the future as an established racing driver.
All the three drivers are the graduate of HRS (Honda Racing School)： Mitsui participated in the same series last year and finished the season overall 2nd with three wins, so it’s his second year in FIA F4. Nomura who was in the same class with Mitsui in HRS went to France to participate in the national F4 championship, finished the 2022 season 7th overall with two wins, and came back to run the FIA F4 series in Japan. Moriyama graduated HRS at the end of 2022 season, and was granted the scholarship for entering into FIA F4 from this season as a freshman in the Japanese auto racing domain.
“2-year formula” : Mitsui Heads into its Second Year of Competition
Mitsui confronting his second year in the series said as follows：
“I’m full of gratitude to be given another chance. I feel obligation to the managers who kindly picked me up and all those who have been supporting me in the team. I think I have to win the championship because it’s my second season. I’ve prepared for it well before the opening round, accumulating a lot of off-season tests.”
The FIA F4 series is basically a so-called “rite of passage” from which the novice drivers are trained and stepped up to the higher categories. It is also a savage place where young drivers are inevitably weeded out if judged incapable. Indeed, anyone who could not produce decent results within the time frame of full two seasons would be stigmatized as the “driver unlikely succeed in the upper class.” That is why the FIA F4 series is called “2-year formula” every now and then in the inner circle.
Mitsui himself knows very well the situation he is standing on. “There’s no such thing, the 3rd year, that I know of. But, it doesn’t mean I feel I’m on the verge. When I look back the previous season, I think I was not familiar enough with the track both at Autopolis and Motegi, and that made me left far behind the winner. But this year, I can make use of my experience, I suppose, and was quite positive about the racing, say, 'I gotta fight in different way,' something like that."
Came the opening rounds of the 2023 season, however, the thing didn’t come his way at Fuji Speedway. Although he marked the fastest time in both 1st and 2nd round, some mishaps including penalty prevented him to score a point in the season’s first two races in a low. For Mitsui compelling himself to win the series title as the absolute must, the initial stumble was truly a nightmarish way to start the season.
Mitsui falling into rock-bottom desperation for a short while quickly pulled himself together and headed for the next round at Suzuka.
“The 1st and 2nd round turned out to be that way. And yet, I still had confidence in me, in my speed and my strength. If I could further sharpen them, results would follow, I told to myself. It’s me who’d vex myself if things didn’t work, better defy the adversity. ‘Push as hard as I can, do my best all the way through to the end.’ ‘If results don’t come along all despite that, you may just as well accept the defeat.’ That’s what I thought in my mind, and I kept on pushing with all my might. ”
As it turned out, Mitsui achieved a double pole-to-win in the 3rd and 4th round in the 2nd event of the season, and jumped up to 2nd on the point table making a dramatic comeback to the contention over the championship title.
“Winning back-to-back for this time enabled me to recover some of my credit that had lost at Fuji in a big way. I’d like to keep up with the momentum so that I can answer the expectations I originally had. My wish for the future is to become a competent racing driver that can make out not only in Japan but also whichever country in the world. Races in Japan are fascinating of course, but, I want to drive at the top where thousands, even millions of rivals are there to fight against,” said Mitsui pouring his heart out.
After Learning from French F4, Nomura Aims to Go to Europe again
What Nomura pondered about his career move from France to Japan, especially in the face of the FIA F4 season currently in action?
“I was given the chance to run in French F4 last year, but I had to return home this year. I couldn’t help but accept it if I think about my performance there. I can go along with their decision. I was painfully aware of the gap between me and top drivers. They’re way quicker, most of the time. I run in Japan from this year on, and I know the year two is critical for me. It’s why I say to myself, ‘Just win, and that’s all that matters!’ and I have to stay strong.”
Nomura too, being very much aware of the critical second year, tries to thrust forward to the future.
“I’d like to learn all over again in Japan, and do challenge the European race yet again. My ultimate dream is F1 driver which I’ve been dreaming since I was a second-year student of elementary school. It’s my second season since I graduated HRS, and I know I’m facing a crucial moment. I’m not afraid but keyed up for the task ahead of me. Nerves always go with the race, but it's a different kind, I think. What I should do is just the same every time around. So, I do all that I can do in every race I run, repeat it time after time, and that’s it.”
Nomura said that he had learned quite a lot in the French F4 championship.
“I’d come in contact with other cars in there too much, too often. European drivers are very aggressive as their nature, and maybe I got myself blood boiled with it. This year, I reflect that point and try to go little bit easier, looking around with a wider field of vision. I learned many stuff like that in France, a sort of racing tactics, which I hope I can make use of in Japan as well.”
While it is invariably called as “F4,” the internationally recognized format actually differs in the vehicle specification in each country, and Japanese FIA F4 is no exception which Nomura says he felt a bit awkward at first.
“The French F4 is turbo-charged while it’s not in Japan, and the timing of acceleration is different. In addition, French F4 is a size larger. That means Japanese F4 feels more nimble, and it made me perplexed, actually still does, albeit just a little bit.”
Nevertheless, Nomura, after running first four races in two events this year, seems getting clues at his command as shown in the results of recent three straight podium finishes. If he has a cause for concern, it should be the lack of experience in racing at the domestic circuits, because he went straight into the French championship after he graduated HRS, and it’s not long since he returned home country.
“Looking into the whole season, I’ll meet some racing courses that I’ve never run before. Be honest, I’d only run at Suzuka up until this year. So, it’s my first time driving at Fuji Speedway at the opening event. That explains why I was almost a second slower than anybody at first. I got a near panic, but soon after, I could adjust myself as the race weekend went on. So, I hope I’ll be OK too either at Autopolis or Motegi that I’ve never run before. I think I can manage it within the limited time of practice.”
Nomura has placed himself 3rd overall so far in the season, and felt positive prospects towards the races ahead, he said.
“I know I’m still growing, getting better in the future. I really want to make my performance go along with results. I wish I could challenge the European series again. And for that purpose, I have to win this championship. That’s what I’m doing now,” pronounced Nomura with obvious determination.
Determination and Perplexity : Four-Wheel Rookie Moriyama
Completing the training course at HRS for a year in 2022, Moriyama made the genuine debut to the 4-wheel racing in this season with a firm resolution that he will, explaining in his own words, “Go for the championship title this year!”
“I was so happy to be granted the opportunity to run in the FIA F4 series. In the context of the real racing, I’ve been always trying to win every one of those races I dare to run. It’s the way I face up to the race even when I was doing All-Japan Racing Kart, and didn’t change ever since. Exactly the same as I stepped up to the 4-wheel racing this year. The stage just gets bigger and that’s all, I think in my mind. I maybe a nuts-and-bolts type of racing driver in that sense.”
Moriyama has long been acquainted with Mitsui and Nomura since their go-kart time, even before they reunioned at HFDP, which made him easier to get relaxed in the tensed atmosphere of racing team. On the other hand, he admits that he has hard time to tame the FIA F4 car exactly as he likes it to be.
“Formula car is not at all an obedient animal to your will. It stays that way for me even now, after the 2nd event of the season. It has four wheels just as well, and yet, I don’t quite get the difference between the racing kart and the formula car. I’m trying my best to further step up my performance, studying hard about the car and become capable of the setting on my own.”
When it comes to the formula of this class, the training opportunity in which drivers can actually run on the track is to be a very limited one. But Moriyama says he feels no anxiety about it.
“I sometime drive racing kart still now, but never a chance to practice with four-wheelers. Even if I drive cars other than FIA F4, it would not be a good reference, I think. I’d rather stay away with them in order not to acquire wrong tricks. Instead, I’d like to polish fundamental technique with the racing kart. In addition, I have a bunch of senior Honda colleagues around with me. For instance, Koide (Shun, the 2022 FIA F4 champion) currently running in the Super Formula Lights series, or Kimura (Iori, 3rd in the 2021 FIA F4 series) and so on. It would be nice to have chance to listen to them and learn something from them.”
After four races in two events in his debut season, Moriyama steadily accumulated the series points, achieved his first podium finish in R-4, and currently standing 4th overall.
“As I look back the early part of the season, I think I could prove that I had decent speed. I focused on, and of course tried to win every other race just in front of me. I’ve been doing my best in training and other aspects on a daily basis which I believe will pay off sooner or later as some tangible result. My performance this year will affect the immediate future of mine, so I really want to win the title. As for the future target, F1 driver is what I've been aiming at since I was a small kid, and besides, Super Formula and GT500 are where my admiration lies. Whichever course I take, I’ll do my best to be at the top of the top.”
Young drivers of HFDP who participate in the Japanese FIA F4 series are facing the race in each own resolution, hitting the apex as tight as possible and fighting against formidable rivals, all for one and only purpose, to hew out the future to become a racing driver in its own right. The 2023 Japanese FIA F4 series is about to come to a mid-season climax.