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McLaren signs Matsushita to Formula One test driver deal

Kyodo

McLaren Honda said Saturday it has added Nobuharu Matsushita to the team’s test driver lineup for the upcoming 2016 Formula One season.

The 22-year-old, Tokyo-born racer joins a McLaren team that is striving to bounce back after a dismal 2015 season that saw both its former world-champion drivers toiling at the back of the pack, an unfamiliar position for a team that has 182 Grand Prix victories and 12 drivers’ championships.

Matsushita, who won the All-Japan Formula Three drivers’ title in 2014 and moved up to GP2 in 2015, will continue to race for the ART Grand Prix team in GP2 while taking on a development role with McLaren Honda.

“To step into the world of Formula One fulfils a boyhood dream, and is a huge step forward in my career,” Matsushita said in a team statement. “I will do the utmost to help the race team on the track, by gathering data to feed back into the development and set-up of the car through simulator work.”

Matsushita had a difficult first season in GP2, finishing ninth on the drivers’ championship table with just one race win, a second and a third. His difficulties were put into stark contrast by his teammate and 2016 McLaren team reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne, who dominated the year, taking seven victories on the way to the overall drivers’ title.

“Last year’s GP2 Series season was a steep learning curve for me,” Matsushita said. “It was my first year racing in Europe, but, thankfully, my experiences with Honda’s young driver program meant I was well prepared for the task ahead.

“As a GP2 Series driver, my sole focus for 2016 is to win the championship. I believe that I have the best package around me to succeed and reach my ultimate goal of becoming a Formula One driver.”