Toyota is making a Formula 1 comeback, of sorts.

During the recent Japanese Grand Prix, McLaren announced it signed Ryo Hirakawa as a reserve driver.

Hirakawa is a Toyota-backed driver who currently drives in the World Endurance Championship, competing in the premier Hypercar class behind the wheel of Toyota’s GR010 Hybrid LMH. In the 2022 season, he managed an overall win in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and claimed the championship title.

Hirakawa will serve as a reserve driver at McLaren starting in 2024, alongside his existing commitment to Toyota in the World Endurance Championship. The reserve role means he will fill in for one of McLaren’s F1 drivers if they are unable to race. As such, reserve drivers regularly test a team’s F1 cars to ensure familiarity and be ready for a potential race. Reserve drivers also help during simulator development.

Toyota competed in F1 from 2002 to 2009, though the company didn’t find much success despite having one of the biggest budgets. The global financial crisis put an end to Toyota’s F1 endeavor, and the automaker is unlikely to return. Current Chairman Akio Toyoda has consistently held that F1 is too far removed from the development of Toyota’s production models.

“As long as I am president, I don’t think it will happen,” he has repeatedly told reporters whenever asked about an F1 return.

However, Toyoda doesn’t want Toyota drivers to miss out on F1, which is why he personally backed Hirakawa’s bid to become a reserve driver at McLaren.

“As president of the company, I was the one who quit F1,” Toyoda said during the Japanese Grand Prix. “Since then, I have been involved in racing in various ways, and although none of the drivers say as much to me, I always sensed their desire to be called the best in the world, to drive the fastest cars in the world, and to develop themselves through that experience.”

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