McLaren has announced that 2022 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Ryo Hirakawa has joined team papaya's Driver Development programme and will fulfill an F1 reserve role in 2024.
It's a surprise announcement by McLaren as the 29-year-old Japanese driver was never mentioned as a potential recruit for the team.
However, with Alex Palou suddenly severing ties with McLaren, the Woking-based outfit has been forced to refresh its reserve line-up. Hirakawa, who holds an F1 Super Licence, joins Pato O'Ward as the team's official substitutes in F1.
Hirakawa's tracks record includes multiple wins in Super Formula and especially the Hypercar World Endurance Drivers’ Championship title for Toyota Racing in 2022. His most recent win with the team was the 2023 6 Hours of Portimão.
Hirakawa will continue to race with Toyota in the WEC next season alongside his duties with McLaren.
"I’m happy to have joined the McLaren F1 Team as a reserve driver," said the Japanese charger.
"It’s an exciting prospect to work with such a respected team and I’m grateful to Zak and Andrea 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."
Andrea Stella, Team Principal, McLaren F1 Team, said:
"I’m pleased to welcome Ryo to McLaren Racing as a Formula 1 reserve driver to further strengthen our growing support driver pool.
"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.
"We look forward to working closely with Ryo who has already spent time on the simulator at MTC. His wealth of experience will benefit the team in a number of areas as he joins our strong stable of drivers."