Three weeks ago, I wrote about the Red Bull seat dilemma and who I would pick for 2021 in the Red Bull and AlphaTauri cars. One of the men being discussed was Yuki Tsunoda, yet I chose Sergio Perez alongside Max Verstappen in the former and Alex Albon alongside Pierre Gasly in a season-long shootout.
My view then was that Tsunoda would benefit from an additional season in F2 before graduating to AlphaTauri and F1 in 2022 to replace whichever driver won the Albon/Gasly shootout.
Since I wrote that article, we’ve had the Bahrain and Sakhir F2 rounds. The championship has concluded, and we have more data to peruse. And guess what? My opinion has changed! Tsunoda finished 3rd in the championship, just one point behind Callum Ilott, and also picked up the Anthoine Hubert award for highest placing rookie.
AlphaTauri confirmed this week that Tsunoda would be driving for them in the Young Driver test at Abu Dhabi next week. It was always expected he would be there but getting the required Superlicense points first seemed to be the target set by Red Bull and Yuki himself.
Assuming all goes well at the Young Driver test, it seems that Red Bull are keen on signing Tsunoda to drive for AlphaTauri in 2021. Should this come to fruition, here’s exactly why it will be a great choice and why we should be excited to see him in F1. My Yuki Tsunoda manifesto, if you will.
Yuki Tsunoda’s F1 Credentials #1: A proven winner
In this day and age of Mercedes dominance, it is easy to forget that drivers winning eight or more races a year is extremely uncommon. This is especially not the case in a highly competitive series such as F2.
Formula 2 had a particularly competitive field of drivers in 2020. There were no fewer than 11 drivers scoring a victory. Among them, Tsunoda picked up 3 wins and 4 further podiums. An additional win in the Styrian round was lost due to miscommunication with his Carlin team. An impressive haul of wins and podiums then for a series rookie.
Yuki Tsunoda’s F1 Credentials #2: The tyre whisperer
Tyre management is a key aspect of motorsport, and Tsunoda demonstrated his exceptional talent at looking after his rubber in Bahrain. The original desert Grand Prix circuit features incredibly abrasive asphalt. Now, circuit surfaces may not be the most interesting of subjects but bear with me… Bahrain’s track surface was chosen to eliminate any sand on-track issues, and it is a notorious tyre killer. Some lovely trivia for you for an obscure pub quiz one day.
Starting 22nd and last on the grid following a rare error in qualifying, Tsunoda scythed his way through the field in the closing laps to finish 6th by the flag. This would earn him 3rd on the grid for the Sprint Race the next day. Unfortunately, a puncture on lap 1 saw him finish 15th despite his pace. Yet he didn’t let his head slip, and on the Outer Loop layout for the Sakhir GP, Tsunoda again nursed his tyres to perfection to win on Saturday and finish 2nd on Sunday.
This tyre saving skill will definitely serve Tsunoda well should he be in F1 next year. Not to mention that F2 and F1 share Pirelli rubber so he has experience just like the other F2 graduates.
Yuki Tsunoda’s F1 Credentials #3: The political choice
Honda’s shock announcement this year that they would be withdrawing from F1 at the end of 2021 caught many paddock observers by surprise. No doubt it would have alarmed Tsunoda as their leading Junior driver, too!
Despite not managing to take the title fight to Mercedes this year, Red Bull and Honda have proven to be a superb combination. Indeed until Sunday, Honda were the only engine supplier to win with two teams in the hybrid era. Honda powered Pierre Gasly’s recent Monza triumph as well as Verstappen’s four victories over the past couple of seasons.
Red Bull’s future plan is to take over the Honda power unit production facility. It doesn’t take a political genius to see that giving Honda’s junior driver a seat would help sweeten that deal.
Yuki Tsunoda’s F1 Credentials #4: The global view
F1 is a global sport and as we have seen with the 2021 calendar. Liberty Media are continually looking for ways to grow the audience. Slapping a few more races on each year has a finite limit, though. 23 races definitely feels like we are already in the upper reaches of that particular avenue.
Making the product itself more appealing is the other key prong of the Liberty development plan. The long-awaited 2022 rule changes are promising more wheel to wheel action with less artificial aids. Yes, I’m looking at you DRS.
But there is a third angle which some canny teams have used to their advantage in the past. The drivers themselves. We’ve all seen the Dutch orange army following Verstappen from track to track.
Just imagine the chaotic scenes when Yuki-mania hits Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix. Some of the most passionate fans in the world cheering on a highly talented driver from their own country is a recipe for hot ticket sales.
Next season will mark the ninth season since those hair-raising “Kaaa-muuuu-iiii” scenes at Suzuka. Skipping past the disappointing Kazuki Nakajima, you have to go all the way back to 2007 for the wildly popular Takuma Sato’s last season in F1. That is just far too long.
Yuki Tsunoda: Conclusion
F1 is long overdue it’s next Japanese talent, and in Yuki Tsunoda, it feels like we have a genuine star prospect in waiting. He’s fast; he can overtake; he knows how to look after his tyres and win races. He fits the Red Bull political landscape and is categorically not a waste of a seat.
Come on down Yuki Tsunoda. Your car awaits you.