Super Formula: Driver-by-driver season preview

Super Formula rookie Pierre Gasly will take on an established cast of international and Japanese drivers in the 2017 edition of the series, which begins this weekend at Suzuka.

Japan's premier single-seater series, which can trace its roots back to 1973, has grown in stature since McLaren junior Stoffel Vandoorne graced the grid last year.

Vandoorne's stellar debut season has enticed several more international drivers to the 2017 grid, with Red Bull protege Gasly being the star attraction.

But the Frenchman faces stiff opposition from not only other big-name European drivers, such as WEC star Andre Lotterer and Formula E ace Felix Rosenqvist, but also a number of home-grown Japanese drivers who aren't to be underestimated.

Read on to see Motorsport.com's driver-by-driver preview of the 2017 Super Formula season:

Yuji Kunimoto, Inging

Yuji Kunimoto, Inging
1/19

Wins: 2
Debut: 2011
Championship(s): 1 (2016)
Kunimoto will be out to defend his Super Formula title, for which he has been rewarded with a Le Mans drive by Toyota. He stays with the front-running Inging squad, which clinched the teams’ title last year, and was up at the sharp end of the timesheets in Suzuka testing before skipping Fuji to be present for Toyota’s WEC launch in Monza.

Photo by: Super Formula

Hiroaki Ishiura, Inging

Hiroaki Ishiura, Inging
2/19

Wins: 3
Debut: 2008
Championship(s): 1 (2015)
2015 champion Ishiura has been one of the most consistent drivers in Super Formula, and was also quick in pre-season testing, finishing third on two of the four days. The 35-year-old will undoubtedly be one to watch again this year as he seeks revenge on teammate Kunimoto.

Photo by: Super Formula

Nick Cassidy, Kondo Racing

Nick Cassidy, Kondo Racing
3/19

Wins: N/A
Debut: 2017
Championship(s): N/A
Amid the hype generated by Gasly and Rosenqvist, Cassidy’s Super Formula debut has largely been out of the spotlight. The Kiwi has a proven track record, having won titles in Japanese F3 and the Toyota Racing Series, but by his own admission has a steep hill to climb as part of Kondo Racing’s all-rookie line up this year.

Photo by: Super Formula

Kenta Yamashita, Kondo Racing

Kenta Yamashita, Kondo Racing
4/19

Wins: N/A
Debut: 2017
Championship(s): N/A
After winning last year’s Japanese F3 championship and then turning heads in the season-ending Macau Grand Prix with a fourth place finish, Yamashita steps up to Super Formula this season. As Cassidy’s teammate at Kondo, his immediate target will be to prove at least the equal of the Kiwi driver.

Felix Rosenqvist, Team LeMans

Felix Rosenqvist, Team LeMans
5/19

Wins: N/A
Debut: 2017
Championship(s): N/A
A last-minute addition to the grid, Rosenqvist has added Super Formula to a busy 2017 racing programme that already includes his Mahindra Formula E drive, a Le Mans appearance and Mercedes commitments. While the Swede isn’t driving for one of the series’ top teams, his natural talent ought to help make up for that shortfall.

Photo by: Motorsport.com

Kazuya Oshima, Team LeMans

Kazuya Oshima, Team LeMans
6/19

Wins: 1
Debut: 2009
Championship(s): 0
After finishing runner-up in last year’s Super GT championship, Oshima returns to Super Formula for his first full season since 2012. Although a proven race winner and a multiple-podium finisher, Oshima hasn’t driven a single-seater for years, and will have to adapt to the Yokohama tyres that were introduced last year.

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Koudai Tsukakoshi, Real Racing

Koudai Tsukakoshi, Real Racing
7/19

Wins: 1
Debut: 2009
Championship(s): 0
After finishing runner-up in 2012, Tsukakoshi has had little success since joining Real Racing. 2017 offers little hope for improvement, with the 30-year-old staying with the Tokyo-based squad for another season and lingering in the mid-field during testing.

Photo by: Takahiro Masuda

Pierre Gasly, Team Mugen

Pierre Gasly, Team Mugen
8/19

Wins: N/A
Debut: 2017
Championship(s): N/A
GP2 champion Gasly follows in the footsteps of Vandoorne, with his eyes firmly set on a 2018 Toro Rosso F1 drive. The Frenchman was one of the most impressive performers in pre-season testing, finishing inside the top five on all four days and consistently being the best of the Honda-powered drivers.

Naoki Yamamoto, Team Mugen

Naoki Yamamoto, Team Mugen
9/19

Wins: 3
Debut: 2010
Championship(s): 1 (2013)
Yamamoto joins Gasly in an expanded two-car line-up at the Mugen squad. The 2013 champion made a strong start to his 2016 campaign with victory at Suzuka, but his performance tailed off as the season progressed. A more consistent showing will be required from the 28-year-old.

Kamui Kobayashi, KCMG

Kamui Kobayashi, KCMG
10/19

Wins: 0
Debut: 2015
Championship(s): 0
Former F1 driver Kobayashi will pilot KCMG’s sole entry in 2017, having parted ways with Team Le Mans. Considering KCMG didn’t score a single point last year, and the fact Kobayashi missed much of the pre-season running due to the clashing WEC Prologue, expect the ex-Sauber and Caterham driver to endure a difficult start to the season.

Photo by: Takahiro Masuda

Yuhi Sekiguchi, Team Impul

Yuhi Sekiguchi, Team Impul
11/19

Wins: 2
Debut: 2016
Championship(s): 0
If his stellar rookie campaign is anything to go by, Sekiguchi has a strong chance of having a crack at this year’s Super Formula title. The 29-year-old amassed two victories during the middle of last year, but his hard work was undone by a difficult season finale at Suzuka.

Photo by: Suzuka Circuit

Jann Mardenborough, Team Impul

Jann Mardenborough, Team Impul
12/19

Wins: N/A
Debut: 2017
Championship(s): N/A
Arguably the best driver to emerge out of Nissan’s GT Academy gamer-to-racer programme, Mardenborough makes his Super Formula debut this year after a successful dual campaign in Japanese F3 and Super GT. How he fares will make for one of the championship’s most intriguing sub-plots.

Photo by: Motorsport.com

Andre Lotterer, Team TOM'S

Andre Lotterer, Team TOM'S
13/19

Wins: 23
Debut: 2003
Championship(s): 1 (2011)
Although best known for his three Le Mans wins with Audi, Lotterer has an equally illustrious record in Japan. With 23 victories, he is the winningest active driver in Super Formula, and the 35-year-old starts his 15th season in the series after dominating the first test at Suzuka.

Photo by: Motorsport.com

Kazuki Nakajima, Team TOM'S

Kazuki Nakajima, Team TOM'S
14/19

Wins: 8
Debut: 2011
Championship(s): 2 (2012, '14)
A former F1 driver and a member of Toyota’s LMP1 programme since its rebirth in 2012, Nakajima can also boast an impressive CV in Super Formula, having won the title in both 2012 and 2014 and finishing runner-up on two more occasions. But after his first winless campaign in the series last year, the 32-year-old will be looking for redemption in 2017.

Photo by: Super Formula

Tomoki Nojiri, Dandelion Racing

Tomoki Nojiri, Dandelion Racing
15/19

Wins: 1
Debut: 2014
Championship(s): 0
Nojiri continues his association with Dandelion Racing for a fourth successive season, having scored a podium finish for the Honda-powered squad each year. Based on testing, the 27-year-old can be expected to regularly fight for points and be in the mix for the occasional top-three.

Photo by: Takahiro Masuda

Takuya Izawa, Dandelion Racing

Takuya Izawa, Dandelion Racing
16/19

Wins: 3
Debut: 2008
Championship(s): 0
After two unremarkable seasons at Real Racing, Izawa returns to Dandelion Racing as a replacement for Vandoorne. Although his one-off GP2 campaign in 2014 was nothing to write home about, he has previously finished runner-up in Super GT and has three Super Formula victories to his name, all with Dandelion.

Photo by: Takahiro Masuda

Takashi Kogure, B-Max Racing Team

Takashi Kogure, B-Max Racing Team
17/19

Wins: 6
Debut: 2003
Championship(s): 0
Former Japanese F3 and Super GT champion Kogure returns to Super Formula this year after several years away with a new team, B-Max Racing team. It remains to be seen how this rookie team will fare, but testing results suggest a difficult season is in prospect.

Photo by: Super Formula

Daisuke Nakajima, Nakajima Racing

Daisuke Nakajima, Nakajima Racing
18/19

Wins: 0
Debut: 2011
Championship(s): 0
The younger brother of Kazuki, erstwhile British F3 driver Daisuke Nakajima has had limited success so far in Super Formula, with two podium finishes to his credit in six seasons. The Honda-powered team that bears his name also struggled in the pre-season, so expectations will likewise be modest for 2017.

Photo by: Kenji Takada

Narain Karthikeyan, Nakajima Racing

Narain Karthikeyan, Nakajima Racing
19/19

Wins: 0
Debut: 2001
Championship(s): 0
India’s first F1 driver Karthikeyan has scored occasional podium finishes during his four-year stint in Super Formula, but hasn't quite managed to piece together a consistent campaign. He’ll be hoping a switch from Team LeMans to Nakajima Racing will boost his fortunes this time around.

Photo by: Toyota
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