Final season, Nojiri’s eighth in Tremendous Formulation, was when every part lastly clicked for the Workforce Mugen driver, as he received three races out of seven to grow to be the primary driver in additional than a decade to wrap up the title with a spherical to spare.
This yr has undoubtedly been more durable for Nojiri, who has solely added another win to his tally to date towards barely stiffer opposition. However his unparalleled consistency, particularly in qualifying, means he virtually already has one hand on a second crown with only a pair of races at Suzuka to go.
With 46 factors up for grabs, Nojiri is 32 away from nearest rival Sacha Fenestraz, that means 15 factors – the equal of a second-place end – throughout the weekend can be sufficient to make him the primary driver to efficiently defend the title in Japan’s high single-seater sequence since Tsugio Matsuda in 2008.
Contemplating Nojiri’s latest type, it’s straightforward to overlook that for a lot of his profession he had been fast every so often however wildly inconsistent. Certainly, 2021 marked simply the second yr that he had been in a position to rating a couple of podium end in the identical season.
He made his debut for Dandelion Racing again in 2014, and a win at Sugo (his solely factors end that yr) meant he outscored his extra skilled teammate Hideki Mutoh.
A extra constant season for Nojiri adopted in 2015, and he simply had the measure of Narain Karthikeyan. However come 2016, he was confronted with a teammate of an altogether completely different calibre as McLaren-backed Vandoorne was parachuted into the #41 Dandelion automobile.
Vandoorne was a far larger problem than another teammate Nojiri had confronted earlier than
Vandoorne arrived in Tremendous Formulation as a GP2 champion and clearly able to race in F1 full-time, an opportunity he would get in 2017 with McLaren after a formidable season that yielded a pair of race wins and fourth within the factors, better of the Honda-powered drivers. That was regardless of the language barrier and never having raced at any of the tracks beforehand.
Nojiri then again couldn’t construct on the relative promise of 2015, managing solely a single podium end all yr at Sugo. He ended the yr ninth general, having accrued a shade over half of the factors tally of his rookie teammate.
“Actually, I had by no means been so outclassed by a teammate earlier than that season,” Nojiri stated in an interview with Motorsport.com’s Japanese version.
“After all there have been occasions I might typically lose out in sure classes, however I had by no means felt that there was a spot that will be inconceivable to bridge. It was a troublesome time for me, however I realized loads about methods to drive and methods to work contained in the staff.”
Nojiri scored a pole in 2016 at Okayama however misplaced the possibility of an enormous outcome because of a penalty
Nojiri is now thought to be one of many hardest-working drivers within the paddock, famend for his consideration to element and meticulous preparation.
However he admits that, again in 2016, Vandoorne’s starvation for outcomes was a lot larger than his personal, conditioned by his relative lack of success in Tremendous Formulation as much as that time, and that seeing the Belgian’s efforts made him realise he wasn’t working arduous sufficient.
“[Vandoorne] wasn’t glad with only a few good outcomes,” stated Nojiri. “For me, it had been some time since I had received something, so I used to be simply blissful if I could possibly be on the rostrum. But when he received a race, he would instantly begin engaged on what he needed to do to get the following win.
“I received the impression he was fairly critical and I might really feel he was giving it completely every part to get to F1. I assumed I ought to be taught from him and I used to be glad I might see it up shut. I realised that I wasn’t critical sufficient.
“When it comes to driving, I used to attract strains in my thoughts like, ‘this feels about proper’, or ‘that is concerning the most’. However as a result of he was there, I might see a brand new benchmark in my thoughts.”
Nojiri, pictured with engineer Norimitsu Yoshida, realized loads from seeing Vandoorne working up shut
After Vandoorne left Tremendous Formulation, Nojiri suffered a dire season in 2017, managing just one factors end and being overwhelmed by teammate Takuya Izawa, albeit in a yr that many of the Honda-powered drivers struggled.
However in his last season at Dandelion in 2018 he had the measure of rookie Nobuharu Matsushita earlier than making the swap to the Mugen squad he has now actually made his personal.
That transfer proved to be the making of Nojiri, who ended a five-year anticipate a second win in 2019, turned an out of doors title contender in 2020 after which lastly stamped his authority on the championship final yr, usurping Naoki Yamamoto as Honda’s high canine.
Vandoorne in the meantime discovered refuge in Formulation E after his two-year F1 stint with McLaren didn’t go as deliberate, finally changing into world champion within the all-electric sequence with Mercedes earlier this yr.
It appears extremely unlikely that the paths of the 2 drivers will cross once more, however Nojiri says he can be eager for a rematch towards Vandoorne to measure the progress he has made within the final six years.
“Ideally, I’d like one other likelihood to struggle towards him,” stated Nojiri. “Not in a distinct staff, however in the identical staff.
“Most likely he doesn’t see it that means! However I used to be on the shedding facet, so I’d actually prefer to know the way far I’ve come towards him since then.”
It appears unlikely we’ll see Nojiri and Vandoorne sharing a monitor once more any time quickly