Red Bull’s newest Formula 1 graduate Yuki Tsunoda will race for AlphaTauri next season, completing a rapid rise through the junior categories.
The bare facts tell you he is a young driver with a lot of potential: at 20 years old he graduates off the back of a third place in the Formula 2 standings this year, with three wins and four pole positions, and he’s won in every category he’s competed in.
Here are some other important things you need to know about why Tsunoda’s been promoted to F1 so swiftly and why Red Bull is so excited about him.
He’s a fast learner
Though Max Verstappen is the ultimate benchmark for reaching F1 as quickly as possible, Tsunoda’s in a similar mould.
Verstappen was a megastar in karts, jumped into Formula 3 and won right away, then stepped up to F1 in only his second year of car racing.
Tsunoda’s had a longer spell in single-seaters but it’s not too dissimilar since he stepped out of Japan and the Formula 4 category: one year in F3, one year in F2. Two years ago he was finishing a season in F4 and now he’s got an F1 deal.
In that time he’s also gone from speaking no English to learning it well enough to be able to understand and converse with his European race teams.
He’s a proper Honda protege
Tsunonda was added to Honda’s Formula Dream Project in 2017. He’d been a participant at the Suzuka Racing School that Honda runs and while he did not get the outright scholarship for that season he was so impressive that ex-F1 driver Satoru Nakajima recommended Honda sign him anyway.
A race-winning full season in F4 followed, culminating in third in the championship, and he won the title in his second year. Red Bull then made him one of its own junior drivers for his move out of Japan in 2019.
That strong Honda link means the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka will be a huge party – assuming of course fans are allowed to attend by then.
He’s a Marko favourite
We all know that Dr Helmut Marko has a reputation for being ruthless. He’s got no time for drivers who want a ‘learning season’ and prefers those who get lobbed into a really difficult situation and do well.
That’s why Verstappen’s always felt like a ‘proper’ Marko driver. No-nonsense, no excuses. If you’re good enough, you’re good enough – and you’ll show it.
Tsunoda’s a bit like that. The team he drove for in Formula 3 last year, Jenzer, was a backmarker. But he won a race and finished in the top 10 in his first season outside Japan.
Then Red Bull threw him straight into F2. Marko says the “experts” complained it was too soon and Tsunoda proved them wrong – much to Marko’s pleasure.
He’s the first driver from the 2000s
Tsunoda will be the first F1 driver born in this millennium. He was less than a year old when Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, who Tsunoda will join on the grid next year, made their F1 debuts in 2001…
He’ll be the youngest driver on the grid next year, but he will not be the youngest driver in F1 history. Actually, he doesn’t even crack the top 25!
Tsunoda will be 20 years, 10 months and 10 days when he made his grand prix debut, assuming the season begins in Australia on March 21st as planned.
That puts him a full three years behind Verstappen, while seven other drivers on the 2021 grid made their debuts at a younger age.
He’s got a big test ahead
Tsunoda doesn’t know any of the early-season circuits and he only has a day-and-a-half in AlphaTauri’s 2021 car to prepare.
He’s also only 160cm tall, still developing, and has completed just two days of F1 running so far – which means he has a lot of work to do to be physically ready for the challenge.
Basically, while Tsunoda is fiercely talented, and will probably thrive sooner or later in F1, even Red Bull will keep expectations in check initially.
The first few grands prix need to be about finding his feet and learning as much as possible, so by the time he returns to familiar territory he can really make his mark.