Honda’s two Red Bull juniors made their European racing debuts in the French Formula 4 championship last weekend and both reached the podium.
The Easter weekend marked the start of a new era in French F4, as the FFSA Academy-run championship introduced its new halo-shod Mygale M21-F4 car to test young drivers’ skills and provide improved safety at higher speeds for the 24 entrants who have signed up for the 2022 season.
Souta Arao and Yuto Nomura, two drivers from the Japanese Karting Championship who are graduates of the Suzuka Racing School (SRS) that has renewed its name to be Honda Racing School (HRS) for 2022, are members of Honda's young driver development programme Honda Formula Dream Project (HFDP) and with the additional support of the Red Bull Racing Formula 1 team they began their French F4 campaigns at Nogaro in excellent style.
The weekend started with a day of pre-event testing for Arao and Nomura to learn the layout of the 3.64-kilometre Nogaro circuit, and were fourth and 14th fastest respectively. Arao was second quickest in the final session, just 0.063 seconds off the benchmark pace.
The pair stayed close in third and fourth on the timesheet in Saturday’s free practice session, then performed even better in qualifying a few hours later. Arao put himself on the front row for his maiden F4 race, being beaten to pole by 0.083s, and Nomura was ninth fastest. Each driver’s second-best laptime set the grid for race three, and Arao’s single-lap pace was only rewarded with fifth place this time, while Nomura was ninth again.
Two new tyres were available for use in the races, and Arao chose to equip his car with the fresher rubber for race one. This helped him stay with the poleman at the start, who he then pursued around the opening lap. A strong run onto the back straight enabled him to attack twice into the hairpin at the end of it, but the narrow track and defensive driving prevented Arao from finding a way through into the lead. He was able to keep his eye on the race leader throughout, and finished his first ever race in second place.
Nomura also made a strong start and climbed two places to seventh. While he could not move further up the order, he had a chance to start from the front row on the reversed grid used for race two.
In this race he again made a fast start, moving into the lead at the first corner and winning the race despite a safety car interruption. The margin of the rookie’s victory was 2.248s, and he recorded the fastest lap of the race along the way. Arao started and finished ninth.
Race three took place on Monday, and Arao immediately rocketed from fifth to third. The positions gained were then lost on lap two, as others benefited from using their new tyres, and Arao had to settle for fifth place. Nomura ended his weekend with a point for 10th place.
Arao sits in third and Nomura is sixth in the championship standings after round one, and the pair are preparing for their next races on the streets of Pau by visiting the simulator in Red Bull's F1 factory.
Images: KSP Reportages