(GMM) Takuma Sato says Formula 1 needs a new Japanese driver.
At Suzuka, the former Jordan, BAR and Super Aguri driver was in the paddock to support Honda and the Japanese driver Naoki Yamamoto.
31-year-old Yamamoto, poised to win his third Super Formula title this year, got his first taste of F1 with a Friday practice session for Toro Rosso at Suzuka.
Sato, who now races in Indycar, thinks Japan needs a new local hero to cheer on.
"F1 is doing well in Japan even if it is not the madness that we used to know," the 42-year-old told France's Auto Hebdo.
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"Honda's recent wins are helping, but I don't think that's the problem. Fans want something other than what happened in the 80s and 2000s.
"The real solution is a Japanese driver who can fight for the podium. It's been five years that they have waited for a successor to Kamui Kobayashi," Sato said.
It is debatable whether Yamamoto fits the bill. He is already 31, and although supported by Honda, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner says he "doesn't fit the criteria" for a Toro Rosso race seat.
When asked about Yamamoto, Sato answered: "He did a great job in the free practice given the circumstances, because it is never easy to just jump into a Formula 1 car.
"There is plenty of talent in Japan, but the challenge is to get all the pieces of the puzzle together. Super Formula is perhaps the discipline that is most similar to F1, so I think it's a matter of time before a Japanese driver arrives in Formula 1," he added.