AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda survived this year’s Silly Season and will stay on Formula 1’s grid in 2022, but the Japanese youngster quipped he was surprised to be retained because he felt he was crashing too much.
Tsunoda is backed by both Red Bull and Honda and enjoyed a rapid rise through the junior categories, jumping from Formula 4 to Formula 3 to Formula 2 and then Formula 1 in successive seasons.
A stirring drive to ninth in his debut F1 race with AlphaTauri in Bahrain captured attention and praise, including some from Formula 1 managing director Ross Brawn, who hailed Tsunocda as the best F1 rookie in years.
Tsunoda’s road since the opener, however, has been quite a bit rockier.
Tsunoda has had only had four top-10 finishes in 12 Grands Prix in a car that has been rapid in the hands of teammate Pierre Gasly. Tsunoda has been outqualified by his teammate in all 13 races so far this season, and his return of 18 points doesn’t fare well compared to Gasly’s 66.
Tsunoda has also given his mechanics additional work on occasion, crashing out in practice in Monaco and Hungary, and during qualifying in Emilia Romagna and France—incidents that have also hampered his progress.
But the caveat to Tsunoda’s tricky season is his status as a rookie. He’s also the youngest driver on the grid in a midfield that includes race winners and multiple World Champions. A couple of tenths of a second can be the difference between eighth and 16th on the grid. Tsunoda recently moved to Italy in order to get more assimilated within his AlphaTauri team, and he has started following a more disciplined timetable at the behest of boss Franz Tost.
Red Bull has faith in his long-term potential and has already handed him a second season at AlphaTauri for 2022.
“I was a bit surprised I’ll be staying for next year.”
“The first half of the season was quite inconsistent, so also from my side, I was a bit surprised I’ll be staying for next year,” Tsunoda said. “Because I just keep crashing and spend lots of money for the team…
“It was not a good way to end the first half of the season, especially in Hungary I went onto the wall in FP1 and ruined the whole session, almost two sessions. I got asked by Franz and Helmut (Marko, Red Bull’s driver consutlant) that I need a more consistent result for driving and more discipline in the sessions.
“I couldn’t improve fully in the first half of the season, that’s why. I was able to score points but Hungary was a bit lucky. So it was mixed feelings, sometimes doing well and sometimes not. So that’s why I would say it (the contract extension) was surprising.”
Tsunoda conceded that he did not expect to face such hurdles through the course of his rookie season, having previously bounced back from setbacks.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen in a Formula 1 race, and I just fully sent it almost every session,” he said. “At that point I felt really good, I was controlling the car quite good, and for me I was feeling very well, and I think from Imola especially after qualifying I lost a little bit maybe confidence or something like that and started to build it.
“Again, after that, I kept doing mistakes so had to reset every time, rebuild confidence, and that makes it a bit struggle. I didn’t expect it to be that difficult in Formula 1 because even in junior categories if I had a massive snap (or oversteer) or went into the wall I never lost this much confidence, so that’s one main issue, And also I think at the beginning of the season the expectations were too high so the first race went well but after that it was getting confusing, each race week and each session, and that makes a bad spiral. But now it’s going well I think.”
Red Bull has had quite an assembly line of talent in Formula 1, bringing the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz and Pierre Gasly into the championship, initially at AlphaTauri, and before that at Toro Rosso.
Tsunoda now has 2022 (and the rest of 2021) to reward their investment.
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