Analysing F1 hopeful Yuki Tsunoda- is he ready for F1?
Yuki Tsunoda is seemingly set to make his F1 debut next season for AlphaTauri by taking the seat of incumbent Daniil Kvyat. But how did he make it to this point at just 20 years old?
Tsunoda’s junior career has been significantly aided by two key backers who are currently inextricably linked with one another: Honda and Red Bull. He has been a member of the Honda Formula Dream Project since 2018 before becoming a part of the Red Bull Junior programme a year later. It has been well documented that without substantial financial backing to compete in the junior categories, making it to Formula 1 is almost impossible. Tsunoda has been fortunate enough to have caught the attention of Red Bull/Honda. This has enabled Yuki to focus entirely on his results to convince Red Bull Motorsport Advisor Helmut Marko that he has the potential to cut it at the highest level. Yuki, like every young driver, is desperate to break into the world of F1 as quickly as possible after having almost completed his junior formula apprenticeship.
Credit: Red Bull Content Pool
How has he fared in single seaters?
From the outset, Tsunoda has built a highly impressive record. He made his debut in 2016 with a one-off race in the F4 Japanese series at Suzuka. He was immediately on the pace, taking a 2nd and a 4th place from the meeting. This led to his first full season of single seater racing in 2017 in the same championship. He finished a respectable 3rd in the standings. He took 3 wins and 6 podiums from 14 starts. In 2018, he became the champion, winning 50% of the races staged that season. He had cleaned up in Japan and so the inevitable next step would be to test himself against the very best rising stars in Europe.
Tsunoda’s faced a baptism of fire when he entered the Formula 3 Championship at the start of 2019. He scored on just 2 occasions in the opening 7 races of the series, with P10 on his debut at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and 7th in Paul Ricard. Tsunoda’s early struggles in F3 demonstrated just how big a step it was for him in terms of the class of competition. However, as the season progressed, he adapted to the car and his new environment. In the following 7 races, he scored in all of them. This included a run of three consecutive podium finishes, culminating with taking his maiden win at Monza. Tsunoda finished the season 9th overall. Had he started the season stronger, he would have been much higher in the standings. However, it was evident that he was clearly a very talent driver who had a lot of potential going forward. He justified in the second-half of the series why Red Bull and Honda have invested in him for the future. He was being moved at a fast rate as this would prove to be his only season in F3.
Tsunoda teamed up with Carlin Racing for 2020, a team that has a long-history of supporting future F1 stars. Daniel Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg and Lando Norris to name a few had all been Carlin drivers while they made their way up the motorsport ladder. Tsunoda was therefore placed in good hands to make a successful transition to F2.
However, the young Japanese driver once again had a difficult start to his campaign. He failed to score in either the feature or sprint race of the opening round of the season in Austria. This did not deter him and he hit back when the action resumed again at the Red Bull ring. He qualified on pole for the feature race, but was hampered by a late pitstop due to miscommunication on the team radio and so he had to settle for 2nd place. His hopes of building any momentum at the start of the season was short lived as he retired from the sprint race with reliability problems in the form of a clutch issue. His streak of falling outside of the points continued at the next round in Hungary. Although, save the sprint race at Silverstone, he began a consistent run of points finishes, including winning the feature races at Silverstone and Spa. In recent times, Tsunoda has been only a difficult run of results. He was not classified in the sprint race in Monza, and was failed to score at Mugello. Although, at the latest round in Sochi, he finished 2nd in the feature race and 6th in the sprint race.
He currently lies 3rd in the standings on 147 points. It must be remembered that this is Tsunoda’s first season in F2, and so his performances have really impressed everyone at Red Bull. The two drivers ahead of him in the standings possess a lot more F2 experience, which is particularly vital at this level. Current championship leader Mick Schumacher and second placed Callum Ilot are both in their second seasons. They both have had a ‘learning’ year under their belt. Ilot and Schumacher finished their debut seasons in 11th and 12th respectively.
Is there anything still standing in his way?
If Yuki Tsunoda is to make his F1 debut next season with AlphaTauri, he must accumulate enough points to qualify for a super licence to enable him to race in F1. If he finishes in the top four in F2 this season, then he will be guaranteed a place in F1 to meet the FIA’s recent ruling that a driver only needs to gain three-quarters of the required amount of points, and so Tsunoda can afford to lose a place in the standings if mistakes or unreliability creep in at the final rounds of the season. Tsunoda must also complete 300km in a recent F1 car. Red Bull is facilitating this requirement as Tsunoda is set to make his F1 debut on 4th November at Imola following the Grand Prix with AlphaTauri using a 2018 spec car which is the latest specification a team can use for unlimited private testing. This will be followed up with Tsunoda driving AlphaTauri’s 2020 car at the young driver test in Abu Dhabi following the conclusion of the Formula 1 season. There has also been speculation that Yuki will also be drafted in to run in a Friday practice season at one of the remaining races of the season.
Credit: Red Bull Content Pool
All the stars have seemingly been aligned for Tsunoda to break into the world of F1 next year, provided that he does not lose focus and finishes his F2 season strongly at the final two events in Bahrain and he satisfies expectations of AlphaTauri on and off track at these tests. Tsunoda will probably take Kvyat’s place which is justified based on the Russian’s performances this season compared to the resurgent Pierre Gasly. As I stated in my article on Daniil Kvyat, he has been granted a number of opportunities by Red Bull and he simply has not capitalised on them in the way that he should have. drivetribe.com/p/daniil-kyvats-f1-future-QGt3270_QOKAW_D2SAoKbA?iid=THTkdOEvRyiN8Tx7NO8Xiw. If the Red Bull programme is to continue, then new drivers must be drafted in. This must happen next year as the programme has had a shortfall of talent in recent years.