Rookie Watch – Yuki Tsunoda
Written by Abhishek Banerjee, Edited by Georgina Clissold
With more than a third of the 23 race season done and dusted, it’s time to look at how the newest entrants have fared so far. The rookie season is always the hardest, with mounting pressure to impress only a select few truly make it – at Project Divebomb we’ll be looking at this year’s rookies to see if they have what it takes to create a long and successful F1 career.
It has been a while since we saw a Japanese driver make the grid; the last being Kamui Kobayashi who raced for Toyota Racing and then for the Sauber F1 team where he stood on the podium in front of his home fans at the Suzuka Circuit. Yuki Tsunoda is hailed as one of the brightest prospects in Formula 1 and was a part of the Honda Formula Dream Project (2016).
He was later backed by Red Bull in 2019, rising through the lower ranks rapidly (like everyone’s favourite Dutchman Max Verstappen) before stepping up to F1 with the Red Bull Junior Team, AlphaTauri, for the 2021 season after finishing 3rd in F2 the year previous.
He was handed a car that could be fighting against the top of the midfield and with the Scuderia AlphaTauri Team behind him, is under a lot of pressure to deliver. No one expected him to beat Pierre Gasly in his first season in F1, but Pierre has been taking his opportunities with both hands and has shown that the car can challenge for points regularly even with all the 20 cars finishing.
Tsunoda finished in the points (9th) for the season opener in Bahrain, no mean feat but after that, he has found it hard to get back into the points. Not all of them were his fault though, like in Italy where he started at the back of the grid for failing to set a time and ended up finishing in P12. He finished P15 after qualifying 14th in Portugal and his Spanish GP performance was overshadowed by his “kiddish outbursts”.
He then failed to improve on his qualifying position (16th) in Monaco, but no one expected too much from him at the Principality. Things started to change in Azerbaijan however, he started the race on the 4th row and stayed 7th, his best finish to date. He was forced to start from the pitlane at Paul Ricard and finished 13th at the French GP.
At the Styrian GP, Yuki qualified P8 but was given a 3 place penalty for impeding Valterri Bottas but he managed to stay in the points, even under pressure from Kimi towards the end of the race. Most recently Yuki qualified P7 at the Austrian GP right behind his teammate Pierre but was not able to capitalize on it due to a poor strategy call and finished behind George Russell’s Williams in P12.
Yuki Tsunoda has been directly involved in 3 red flag incidents in Italy, Azerbaijan, and France. He crashed out on the first lap of Q1 in the latter. There was little he could have done in the incident involving Valterri Bottas at the Austrian GP and worse, he was handed two 5-second penalties during the race for not obeying the lines before the pit entry.
Yuki is clearly a talented driver and has huge potential. He is known for his usage of “indecent language”, and his outbursts. They are not necessarily bad qualities for a driver and his desire to impress is shown through these outbursts, even if sometimes they get out of hand. It will take him a little more time to get to grips with the car and start performing consistently. One worrying aspect would be his tendency to crash in qualifying, but that will surely be less frequent over time (especially after a private chat with a certain Dr. Marko).
At the time of writing, (Round 9 – Austria), Yuki not learning from his mistakes as quickly as he should has shown the young driver still has a lot to learn. Though maybe, it was just one of those races where nothing goes right for you. Yuki has not yet been able to get the better of his teammate Pierre Gasly, though expected Tsundoa should learn from the more experienced Frenchman that consistency is key, and redemption is just around the corner.
Looking at those who were previously at AlphaTauri, he has the remainder of this season and the next to impress before being asked to vacate the seat by moving to some other form of motorsport if he’s not deemed good enough for the main team.
It looks like Yuki has a few years before he’s considered for the promotion to Red Bull, though Dr. Helmut Marko knows talent when he sees it. If Tsunoda were to make it to the Red Bull team he would not only have to work 100x as hard, but deal with the curse of the second Red Bull seat – curse that could be broken by Sergio Perez during the 2021 season.