Over the 73 years of Formula One racing no Japanese driver has won the drivers’ world championship and Yuki Tsunoda is just one promotion away from having a car that can win it.
The Japanese driver’s ascent through the junior Formula series on his way to F1 was rapid. From racing in Japanese F4, through F3 and F2 and arriving in Formula One was an astonishing three year process.
Yuki gets a third year while Schumacher doesn’t
Whilst his F3 year was less than impressive, Tsundo raised his game on arriving in F2 claiming 3 race wins, four pole positions, seven podiums and 200 points, some 15 behind the winner Mick Schumacher.
Tsunoda and Schumacher were chalk and cheese in their approach to racing. Mick set out to accumulate points on a consistent basis which saw him collect nine podiums but just two race wins.
Yuki’s style is more monte Carlo or bust. The Japanese driver gained fame for his daring overtakes though this would inevitably lead to poor tyre management which did for Tsunoda late in a number of races.
Tsunoda benefits from Honda influence
Some would argue Tsunoda ‘jumped the line’ to gain his F1 debut and the relationship between Honda and Red Bull Racing played a significant part in his promotion to the top tier of single seater racing.
Both Schumacher and Tsunoda were significantly out performed by their respective team mates, with the junior drivers scoring around half the points of Magnussen and Gasly.
Yet Tsunoda retains his seat for a third consecutive season in 2023, while Mick Schumacher is sidelined playing the reserve driver role for Mercedes.
Did Yuki get contract extension because Gasly was leaving?
Yuki was rewarded a contract extension for 2023 with Alpha Tauri with a handful of races to go in the season and with the team knowing it was likely Pierre Gasly would be leaving.
Team boss Franz Tost claimed at the time, “As I always say, a driver needs at least three years to fully get to grips with Formula 1.” However, Tsunoda may well have retained his seat because the team preferred a semblance of stability with Gasly’s move to Alpine all but completed.
Tsunoda starts the season with the threat it may e his last ringing in his ears following the new Alpha Tauri livery reveal in New York last evening.
Tsunoda’s seat under threat before season begins
When asked about how his two young drivers would fare in 2023, Franz Tost issued his Japanese driver with a veiled threat.
“Last year, Yuki struggled with the car,” Tost explained.
“This year, as I expect we will have quite a competitive car, Yuki must always aim to be in Q3 and finish the races in the points.
“He is a very highly- skilled driver and now has a lot of experience with two seasons in Formula 1. For this reason, of course, he has to score many more points than he did last year.”
Tsunoda wants to be “more in control of myself”
Yuki Tsunoda was on message in New York, “My main goal is to perform more consistently in every race, independently from the car’s performance, and to score points more reliably,” said Tsunoda.
“I want to be more in control of myself at all times, work well with the team, understand the car as quickly as possible, right from the first race in Bahrain.”
Whether Tsunoda can reign in his natural instincts and ‘be more in control’ is yet to be seen. However, Alpha Tauri by their standards had a poor season last year finishing P9 and are likely to be more competitive in 2023 as a solid midfield outfit.
“I think that the whole field will be much closer together,” he said. “Of course, the three big teams still have an advantage from their infrastructure, from the personnel side, but I’m quite convinced that in 2023 the cars will be much more evenly matched,” concludes Franz Tost.
“In addition, while [Max] Verstappen won the championship quite early on in the season last year, I don’t expect that one driver will have such a big advantage this year and win so early. I think it will become a fight that goes on until the end of the season. That’s what the fans, spectators, and we all want to see.”
Alpha Tauri car launch damp squib
Alpha Tauri followed in the party of Haas, Red Bull and Williams by launching their new livery on a 2020 car at the Lincoln Centre New York City, to the back drop of Central Park.
Anyone hoping to see the Faenza 2023 challenger was treated instead to a fashion show of the team’s title sponsor’s new season clothing lines while renders of the car were passed out to the assembled media.
The 2023 car launches have on the whole been an anti-climax and a far cry from the launch of the Jordan car in 2002. At a fairly ordinary event held at Brussels airport, a message came from the control tower announcing “a special delivery for Mr. Jordan.”
The camera cut to a huge cargo plane performing a low flyby over the event before it circled back and landed. As the plane taxied to a halt, the side doors opened and the Jordan EJ12 was revealed to the world.
Formula One is obsessed with its new marketing outlet, “Drive to Survive.” Though for many this is an era of style over substance where personalities and rivalries take centre stage and little else matters.
This is clearly reflected in the quality and substance of this years F1 car launches.