Naoki Yamamoto "should be in Formula 1".
That is the view of 2009 world champion Jenson Button, referring to the Japanese driver who got his first taste of an F1 car at Suzuka last Friday.
The 31-year-old is Button's teammate in the Japanese Super GT series. He is also poised to be this year's Super Formula champion, having won that championship in 2013 and 2018 as well.
Yamamoto is strongly backed by Honda, Red Bull and Toro Rosso's works partner in Formula 1. Yamamoto made his F1 debut in Friday free practice at Suzuka, taking over from Toro Rosso's Pierre Gasly.
He was only a tenth off Daniil Kvyat's pace.
"He's had a very successful career racing over here and with Jenson in the GTs," Red Bull team boss Christian Horner told Sky.
Not a candidate
Technically, Yamamoto should not have been allowed to drive at Suzuka. He does not possess a Friday driver Super Licence, as he has not completed 300km of prior running in an F1 car.
"I wouldn't call it permission, but it was a decision of the World Motor Sport Council last week," F1 race director Michael Masi explained.
"Even if he doesn't take part in the final round of the Super Formula series, he will have enough points to qualify for a fully-fledged Super Licence," he said.
At any rate, Yamamoto is not a candidate to race for Toro Rosso next year. Horner said he "doesn't fit the criteria at the moment" for a place in the Red Bull programme.
"But he's certainly worth giving a run and having a look at," he added.