AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda was the sensation of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, but the old-school Imola circuit made him look like the rookie he is. In Bahrain he took two points on his debut and felt aggrieved he’d not started somewhere towards the front of the grid, only an over-optimistic choice of trying to get through Q2 on medium tyres for a better race strategy preventing that.
Until then he appeared to have a small but consistent edge over highly-rated team-mate Pierre Gasly.
Tsunoda is much more than just another Honda-backed driver. Red Bull sees him very much as its next Verstappen and he’s been fast-tracked into F1 after a single season of F2.
He’s enormously charismatic, friendly but sweary. He carries the typically Japanese samurai spirit in the car but there is a natural, open confidence which marks him out. Asked about whether he regretted not choosing the softer tyres in Q2, he replied. “No. The team was suggesting I do a medium then a soft run in Q2, just to be safe. It was me who insisted we do medium/medium, the same as Pierre. It’s important for the future. I need to learn and this is experience.”Asked by a fan what he felt when he achieved his dream of becoming an F1 driver, he replied, “I didn’t have the dream to be an F1 driver. I had the dream to be an F1 world champion.”
He’d done plenty of previous F1 mileage around Imola, the team’s local track. But he didn’t get to add to it in qualifying, crashing heavily at Variante Alta on his first flying lap.“I was pushing too hard into the entry of the chicane and just couldn’t control the car after that.” He was very matter-of-fact as he returned to the garage.“I’m sure we could have got through to Q3 on the medium tyre this time.”
Starting from the back of the grid he made some early progress in the race before spinning to the back on cold tyres at the restart after the red flag and coming back to 12th at the end. “I’m very disappointed with myself and I just want to say sorry to the team. This was the first time I’ve been in a Formula 1 car in the wet and I learnt you have to be so careful, especially with acceleration. Starting on the intermediate tyre during the rainy conditions made it even more difficult but it was a great opportunity for me to understand more how the compounds work in different conditions. I think points could have been on the table for me here today but it’s all a learning curve and I’ll take this experience with me to the next race.”