McLaren sign new driver amid uncertainty over Lando Norris future

Lando Norris is beginning to run down his existing contract at McLaren, amid strong interest from Red Bull.

McLaren Racing has revealed that Ryo Hirakawa will become a part of the McLaren F1 Team as a reserve driver. 

This move is a significant step for Hirakawa, as he joins McLaren’s Driver Development program.

The 29-year-old Japanese driver boasts an impressive racing record, with notable achievements in Super Formula and Super GT. 

Additionally, he clinched the Hypercar World Endurance Drivers’ Championship title for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing in 2022 and is currently leading the 2023 Hypercar World Endurance Drivers’ Championship. 

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His recent victory in the 2023 6 Hours of Portimão further underscores his prowess on the track.

As part of his role with McLaren, the Kure-born racer will contribute to various aspects of the team’s development efforts starting from 2024. 

This includes participation in simulator development activities at the McLaren Technology Centre. 

Hirakawa will also have opportunities to test the team’s F1 car, the MCL35M, as part of their testing program.

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Despite his commitment to McLaren, Hirakawa will continue to represent Toyota in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) in parallel with his responsibilities at McLaren, showcasing his versatility as a racing driver.

In response to the news, Ryo Hirakawa expressed his excitement, saying, “I’m happy to have joined the McLaren F1 Team as a reserve driver. 

“It’s an exciting prospect to work with such a respected team, and I’m grateful to Zak and Andrea for the opportunity.” 

He also mentioned that he’s already familiar with the team, having experienced their simulator at MTC, allowing him to hit the ground running. 

Hirakawa added, “I’m now fully prepared and focused for the remainder of 2023.”

Hirakawa took a moment to express his gratitude to TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, who have been supportive of his dual role, stating, “I am grateful to them for allowing me to serve as a driver for the two teams.” 

He also acknowledged Akio Toyoda, often referred to as MORIZO-san, for his support and advice, emphasising the importance of driving different cars to develop as a driver.

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Andrea Stella, Team Principal of the McLaren F1 Team, welcomed Hirakawa to the McLaren family, saying:

“I’m pleased to welcome Ryo to McLaren Racing as a Formula 1 reserve driver to further strengthen our growing support driver pool.” 

He expressed appreciation for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s collaboration in allowing Hirakawa to take on this new role while continuing his driving duties. 

Stella highlighted Hirakawa’s impressive track record and experience, emphasising the value he brings to the team.