Red Bull reserve Formula 1 driver Pierre Gasly will race for the Team Mugen squad in the 2017 Super Formula season.
Gasly, who won the 2016 GP2 title for the Prema team last season, will follow in the footsteps of McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, who raced in the Japanese championship after clinching the F1 feeder series’ 2015 crown.
Like Vandoorne last year, Gasly finds his path to an F1 race seat blocked as both Red Bull teams will keep the same line-ups they had at the end of 2016. Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen will race for the senior squad, while Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat will continue at Toro Rosso.
Kvyat’s position at the Faenza-based team had been under threat for much of last season after he was demoted and replaced by Verstappen after a disastrous performance at the 2016 Russian Grand Prix, and Gasly’s GP2 performances added to the pressure being placed on the 22-year-old.
But Red Bull opted to keep Kvyat at Toro Rosso for another season, which will be his fourth year racing in F1.
When Gasly discovered that he would not be promoted to F1 in 2017, he expressed his disappointment at the situation but did go on to secure the GP2 title ahead of his Prema teammate Antonio Giovinazzi.
After he became the fifth successive GP2 champion not to graduate directly to F1 the following year – Romain Grosjean was the last driver to do so after he was picked up by Lotus in 2012 – Gasly was forced to look at other options to keep him race sharp while spending 2017 as Red Bull’s reserve driver.
When his Super Formula entry was first confirmed earlier this year, Gasly expressed his excitement at racing in a car that has similar corning speeds to an F1 machine, albeit with less overall power.
He said: “This a big new challenge for me and that is exactly what I love. It is all going to be very different, I have no experience with the car or the tracks and I know that the Japanese culture, philosophy, way of working, just about everything is different.
“I am also really pleased to be third driver at Red Bull Racing for another season, to work closely with Max and Daniel, gaining more experience on how the team works, how they behave at the GPs. There is a lot to learn about the new car and new regulations, it is all very valuable.
“Super Formula will help with that, a bit less power than a GP2 car so slower in a straight line but with more aero so quicker through the corners and that also relates to this year’s F1 car.”
What is Super Formula?
Super Formula, which was previously known as Formula Nippon, is the premier single seater category in Japan and has a history stretching back to 1973 when it began life as a Formula 2000 series and later became a Formula 3000 championship.
Japanese F1 drivers Kunimitsu Takahashi, Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Satoru Nakajim raced in Super Formula’s F3000 era, as did Michael Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Ralf Schumacher, Pedro de la Rosa and Eddie Irvine during their junior single seater careers.
Today the series uses spec Dallara-built cars that are powered by either Honda or Toyota 2,000cc engines. The Super Formula’s website states that the championship is aimed at being a “third great open-wheel racing competition after Formula 1 and IndyCar.”
The high-downforce, high-power nature of the Super Formula cars has led to a number of top line drivers opting to take part in the seven-round championship alongside their commitments to racing in other categories.
World Endurance Championship racers, and former F1 drivers, Kamui Kobayashi, Narain Karthikeyan, André Lotterer and Kazuki Nakajima will all line up alongside Gasly in 2017, and the latter two have won the series in the past.
— Pierre Gasly 🇫🇷 (@PierreGASLY) February 13, 2017
When he was confirmed as a Team Mugen driver earlier today, Gasly tweeted that he was “super excited” for what he hopes will be a one-year stopover in Super Formula before moving into F1 for 2018.
Vandoorne, who will race alongside Fernando Alonso at McLaren this year, won two Super Formula races during his single season in the championship and sets the bar for Gasly’s progression. But any chance of the 21-year-old Frenchman’s F1 dreams becoming a reality for next year hinges on a spot opening up in the line-ups at Red Bull or Toro Rosso.
What do you make of the news that Gasly will race for Team Mugen in the 2017 Super Formula championship? Do you think he will make it to F1 next year? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.