Team AlphaTauri has strongly condemned and hit back at comments made by some, including Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who suggested that there was “foul play” behind Yuki Tsunoda’s stop at the Dutch Formula One Grand Prix in Zandvoort on Sunday.
At the Dutch Grand Prix, the AlphaTauri driver stopped in the pits to put on hard tyres on lap 42, but after his stop the Japanese driver quickly stopped on track, incorrectly reporting that the tyres were not fitted correctly.
Yuki’s engineer replied, “copy, slow down and stop on track in a safe place.”
Growing increasingly frantic the Japanese driver screamed at his engineer, “WHY, TYRES NOT FITTED???”
Tsunodo was told to “stop on track NOW,” which he did. Yuki asked again whether the tyres were fitted properly and received no response for what seemed like an age.
Yuki then asked: “…so retire then? Retire”
His engineer a few seconds later informed him “Go again, go again, Start, go again. Tyres are OK. Start go again.”
Tsunodo immediately reported, “…there’s something wrong though.”
He was told, “box, box, we change tyre” and Tsunoda replied, “you’ll have to fix the seat belt.”
He then made it back to the pits very slowly, where the team changed his tyres and tightened his safety harness, which he had started to loosen earlier. But on returning to the track, Tsunoda indicated that there was still a problem and stopped again, eventually withdrawing from the race and prompting the deployment of a virtual safety car after being told “Go out on track and stop stop. Stop in a safe place,”.
This Virtual Safety Car allowed Max Verstappen to enter the pit lane to make a “free” stop, prompting some social media users to suggest that Tsunoda’s problem was orchestrated by Red Bull to help Max Verstappen win his home Grand Prix.
Toto Wolff fanned the flames of the conspiracy theory when asked by Sky F1’s anchor about the Alpha Tauri incident and whether it had ruined the team’s one stop strategy.
“Tsunoda stopping out on track then restarting, coming back, then seatbelts not on, starting the car up again and breaking down half a lap later….I….. I…. Speechless”. Wolff shrugs and rolls his eyes.
“If we were fighting a championship, this would be something I would closely look at,” concludes Wolff.
“It is incredibly disheartening to read some of the language and comments directed at our team and Red Bull Racing’s head of strategy Hannah Schmitz,” the AlphaTauri team said in a short statement on Monday evening.
“Such hateful behaviour cannot be tolerated and to entertain accusations of foul play is unacceptable, untrue and totally disrespectful to Hannah and us. We have always competed independently and fairly and with the highest levels of respect and sportsmanship.”
“Yuki had a breakdown that the team did not immediately detect, which caused her to stop on the track. To suggest anything different is insulting and categorically incorrect.”
The VSC caused by Tsunoda was eventually followed by an actual safety car after Valtteri Bottas also stopped on track due to a mechanical failure.
Yuki was reprimanded by the stewards for driving with loosened seat belts and is likely to receive a 10 place grid drop at the Italian GP.
This was the Japanese drivers’ 5th reprimand and a 10 place grid drop is automatic for 5 reprimands in a season, at least four of which must be for driving infringements.