No Japanese driver in Formula 1’s history has ever won a World Championship Grand Prix. Subsequently, according to several F1 experts, Yuki Tsunoda is a name that holds all the potential to achieve that feat.
Tsunoda’s rise to the top level of motorsport is quite a fairytale. Right from driving in Japanese F4 to a Formula 1 spot with AlphaTauri within over three years, he made it into the F1 circuit with no prior experience.
Tsunoda had a sluggish start in F3. Still, he made up for it with a notable debut F2 campaign while finishing on the third spot with three wins at his back. So, by every means, he proved to have the right skill and speed to make it into the top tier of the F1 circuit.
Tsunoda has already made a big impression at AlphaTauri: Graham Watson
If Tsunoda adapts to Grand Prix racing as speedily as he did to F2, it won’t be long before making it into the top driver list.
Still, there is a big learning curve ahead for the Japanese driver as he gears up to cherish the one-and-a-half test days in the new car before his debut in Bahrain.
This stands as only his third season in Europe, so there is much more to learn off the track. Still, everyone at Alpahtauri is highly impressed and fascinated by this twenty-year-old young driver from Japan.
“I would say considering his age, he’s very focused on what he’s doing,” says Graham Watson, AlphaTauri’s team manager. “And he has a lot of self-confidence, which is a good thing. When I first met him, I thought he was a little boy, but actually, he’s really got some self-confidence. Not arrogance, but enough to believe in himself, and then you believe in him as he carries that through”
“I know that the other day that he was asked by a journalist, ‘What’s your plan for 2021?,’ and he said: ‘Beat Gasly!’ If that’s his attitude, you can’t knock him for it. At the end of the day, as everybody says, you’re judged by your teammates. He’s got to do his job. I think there’s going to be some fun along the way, for sure. Young guys always have to have their first big accident, and all those things, as you go along. But he’s definitely got some talent, there’s no doubting that”, Watson further added.
“Franz Tost is a massive fan of his, and when it comes to drivers, he knows what he’s talking about. He could see pretty soon that Yuki can do the job. We see good, positive signs every day he gets in the car.”
How are things lining up for Tsunoda at Alpha Tauri?
However, the 2021 season poses a whole different challenge for the young Japanese driver. The pre-season testing got limited to just three days in Bahrain before the season’s opening round. Moreover, the new Alpha Tauri car got confronted with an issue related to lack of mileage.
Still, AlphaTauri leaves no stone unturned to help Tsunoda get comfortable with the situation. This way, both the driver and the team have an opportunity to gel up before the start of a challenging season.
We must mention that AlphaTauri could not go the same way with all of their young drivers recently due to their engine supplier’s regular switch. Within five years ranging from 2013 to 2017, the team has gone back and forth with Ferrari and Renault, before finally making it up with Honda in 2018.
According to Watson: “It worked out very well for us and it’s given us an opportunity to put Yuki in the car just to pound around the circuits. We obviously want Yuki to succeed. I feel that he’s got a very big talent. He hasn’t done a lot of European racing, and yet he still was fairly strong in F3, and then really came into his own in F2 last year against Schumacher and Mazepin and those guys. So I think he deserves his chance.”
He’ll be probably one of the highest mileage rookies for many seasons: Watson
Watson lays some big hopes on the rookie driver for the new season. In return, even Tsunoda is making the most of the provided opportunity.
“We did two days in Imola, then two days in Misano,” says Watson. “And luckily – I don’t know how – we ended up on those four days of running with blue skies and a bit of wind. We dodged a bullet, I think! He’s going to be well prepared when he gets to the first Grand Prix. We’re doing another three days in Imola on 23-25 February. But we’ll split that between both the guys, between Yuki and Pierre [Gasly], to give Pierre a chance as well.”
“It’s just miles really, and the chance to understand all the complexities of the steering wheel and everything else that goes with the engineering side,” Watson adds. “He’s really grown, and we’ve seen a massive change with him since Abu Dhabi.
“In Abu Dhabi [above] he did a good job, but every time he gets back in the car now he’s just becoming more and more mature, with more understanding, as you’d expect. He’s only a young guy, 20 years old. He’s done very good work for us, actually. And I’d say when you get to the test in Bahrain; he’ll be probably one of the highest mileage rookies for many seasons.”
We must say that with all the massive hype and expectations around, both Alpha Tauri and Tsunoda will have a lot to prove in the upcoming 2021 season.