McLaren signs Le Mans winner as 2024 F1 reserve driver

McLaren has sign Le Mans winner Ryo Hirakawa as a 2024 F1 reserve driver. Image: McLaren Racing

McLaren has signed Le Mans winner Ryo Hirakawa as a 2024 F1 reserve driver. Image: McLaren Racing

McLaren has announced the signing of 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Ryo Hirakawa as reserve driver for the 2024 F1 season.

Hirakawa will join the team’s driver development programme while continuing the race for Toyota in the World Endurance Championship, with whom he won the world championship and 24 Hours of Le Mas in 2022.

“I’m happy to have joined the McLaren F1 Team as a reserve driver,” Hirakawa said.

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

“I’ve already met the team and experienced the simulator at MTC which has allowed me to hit the ground running. I’m now fully prepared and focused for the remainder of 2023.”

“I would also like to take this opportunity to express two points of appreciation,” he added.

“The first one goes to Toyota Gazoo Racing. I am grateful to them for allowing me to serve as a driver for the two teams.

“The second thank you goes to Morizo-san (Akio Toyoda), who has supported me as a driver. As a driver himself, his advice was that I should drive any car that gives me the chance to develop.

“I therefore want to make the most of this opportunity and return the favor by showing him how I have grown.”

Hirakaa’s appointment comes in the wake of another contract wrangle with IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou.

The Spaniard was named McLaren’s reserve driver last December, having wanted to swap his IndyCar allegiances from Chip Ganassi for the papaya operation.

That resulted in a lawsuit, settled in favour of Ganassi.

He remained part of McLaren’s F1 programme and was set to be available for the balance of 2023, following the conclusion of the IndyCar season in the United States.

That was thrown into question when McLaren and Palou ended up in court after he refused to honour his contract.

The 26-year-old should have been on standby in Singapore but was not there.

Ultimately that hasn’t caused much of a headache as McLaren has access to a number of different options, through Mercedes (which has Mick Schumacher at its disposal).

Hirakawa’s signing sidesteps that problem for next year.

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

“We are thankful to Toyota Gazoo Racing for their collaboration by allowing Ryo to take on the new role alongside his driving duties.

“He has an impressive record on track winning Le Mans as well as the FIA World Endurance Championship,” added the McLaren boss.

“We look forward to working closely with Ryo who has already spent time on the simulator at MTC,” he added.

“His wealth of experience will benefit the team in a number of areas as he joins our strong stable of drivers.”

While likely purely coincidental, the World Endurance Championship link is curious as it is a competition McLaren holds ambitions to enter, though requires an engine partner in order to do so.

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