‘Aggressive’ Yuki Tsunoda is relishing a ‘fight’ with fellow rookie Mick Schumacher and dreams of racing alongside Max Verstappen at Red Bull with the Japanese youngster’s rapid rise to F1 set to continue when the lights go out this weekend
- Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda has enjoyed an incredible ascent to Formula One
- In 2016, he was competing in F4 but now he will battle it out with Lewis Hamilton
- Tsunoda is the first Japanese driver on the F1 grid since Kamui Kobayashi in 2014
- There are high expectations for the 20-year-old – first ever F1 driver born in 2000
- Aim is for him to gain experience with AlphaTauri before moving onto Red Bull
It comes as no surprise that Mick Schumacher, son of legendary seven-time Formula One champion Michael, is grabbing all the headlines ahead of the new season.
But while all the talk surrounds how he will fare with Haas during his debut campaign in F1, fellow rookie Yuki Tsunoda from Japan is happily going about his business in the background.
Tsunoda is the first ever F1 driver on the grid to be born in 2000 or later and the first from Japan since Kamui Kobayashi in 2014, and there are big expectations on his shoulders – having enjoyed an incredible rise from F4 to F1 in just four seasons.
Yuki Tsunoda is ready to make his mark in F1 with AlphaTauri after an incredible ascent
The Japanese driver is looking to follow in the footsteps of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen
In 2019 he moved to Europe and he hasn’t looked back with his aggressive style of driving earning plenty of plaudits, and the aim is to promote him to Red Bull after gaining vital experience with AlphaTauri – the development team.
And Tsunoda, who finished second during the final day of testing in Bahrain behind Max Verstappen, has lofty ambitions as he looks to follow in the footsteps of the Red Bull star.
‘I know Max is really fast, and he is one of the drivers that I want to drive with,’ Tsunoda told Sportsmail. ‘In the future, of course Red Bull are a really good team, they have a really good car. Hopefully I can drive there one day and drive with Max but he is in a different team, and also has a different target. And I am really happy to drive with AlphaTauri this year.
‘So for me, I am just focusing on this year and focusing to beat my team-mate and trying to get as many points as possible. Hopefully I can drive with Max in the future, but I am just focusing on this year with AlphaTauri.
‘I think it is a really really good team, especially in your first year, because they have lots of experience with the rookie drivers, and they know how to make the rookie drivers build up and grow up. So I want to just work with them for now, and perform well for them.’
There are certainly shades of Verstappen in Tsunoda due to his fearlessness and speed on the track, which has hugely impressed both AlphaTauri and Red Bull.
And it is this speed, combined with his impressive consistency and flair for race management, that has earned him the opportunity to battle it out against seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, Verstappen and Co.
And Tsunoda – who has set himself a target of an eighth-to-10th-placed finish in his debut campaign – will certainly be sticking by his guns as he gets ready to take F1 by storm this season, starting in Bahrain on Sunday.
‘I didn’t expect to get here this fast to become an F1 driver. When I was in F4 in Japan, of course I always aimed to become an F1 driver but I didn’t expect to be one at 20 years old,’ Tsunoda said.
Tsunoda finished second during the final day of testing in Bahrain behind Verstappen
‘So yeah it is a dream come true. Now is my rookie year so I just want to push from the beginning. I am not worried about mistakes. I just want to get good experience and put it all together from the middle of the season until the end.
‘There is no reason to have any nerves because I don’t know what is going to happen. And I still don’t know how I can perform on the grid, so I am just looking forward to it, I am not afraid. Just focus on my driving now and on my performance.’
When quizzed specifically over whether he will stay true to his combative nature, Tsunoda replied: ‘I think my driving looks aggressive because I have strong confidence with the braking, especially the braking zone. And I am really strong and confident at overtaking. I try to always make it once, I don’t want to budge into each other and waste my tyres, so I always put all my effort into the braking, and I really am happy that they (AlphaTauri) are looking for that aggressive style and that they like it.
‘So I am just trying to keep that style even in Formula One and I am just looking to build up the confidence towards the end. I just try to keep the style and drive.’
While races conjured up plenty of drama last season, it proved to be a concession for Hamilton as he matched Michael Schumacher’s astonishing record of seven world titles.
However this year, there are plenty of intriguing subplots as Hamilton goes in search of an unprecedented eighth championship.
Hamilton’s future beyond next season is just one of many stories that will dominate the headlines, along with the return of Fernando Alonso and a mouth-watering grid that has seen the likes of Carlos Sainz move to Ferrari, Daniel Ricciardo to McLaren and Sebastian Vettel to Aston Martin.
The 20-year-old driver finished third in F2 last season after only moving to Europe in 2019
But the emergence of this season’s rookies is very high up on the agenda, with Tsunoda coming up against Haas duo Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin.
The trio are all familiar faces to one another having competed in F2 last season, with Schumacher placing first ahead of Tsunoda in third and Mazepin in fifth.
Schumacher will be the main attraction again this season due to his father’s illustrious history in the sport but Tsunoda has plans of his own as he looks to make a name for himself.
‘With Mick and Nikita, we drove last year together, and we fought with each other. I am also looking forward to fighting with them this year but I don’t focus much on them. Even the other drivers, I just focus on myself,’ he added.
‘For sure they will perform well in Formula One. I am also really interested in how they are going to battle each other at the same team. But just for me, I just need to focus on my job.
‘Of course I try to be the best rookie driver in Formula One. But also Mick from last year, he did a really good job especially consistency wise, so he had a really strong season to get the points. So I try to learn from him.
‘My weakest point at the moment is my consistency so I just need to work hard to get that consistency. Especially in Formula One, it is really really important for consistency, so just try to work hard and improve that weak point.’
Tsunoda will be looking to out-perform Mick Schumacher as rookie of the year this season
Despite admitting he can learn lessons from Schumacher, Tsunoda is confident he can outdo his rookies at Haas this year with AlphaTauri.
‘I think AlphaTauri for me looks a much stronger team than Haas to be honest, so I have to finish ahead of them,’ Tsunoda said.
‘But I am also trying to just get as many points as possible for AlphaTauri and I aim to be close to the top five as a team hopefully. So I have strong confidence that I can finish ahead of them and perform better than them.’
It will be a proud moment for Japan when Tsunoda lines up on the grid come a week on Sunday in Bahrain.
The 20-year-old is the first F1 driver from Japan – who have a rich history within the sport – since Kobayashi seven years ago.
Kobayashi clinched his maiden podium at the Japanese Grand Prix in 2012 with Sauber and Tsunoda himself admits it would be a ‘dream’ to emulate his compatriot and win at Suzuka on October 10.
‘I am really looking forward to Suzuka, my debut in front of the fans and to drive in front of them. I am just driving for them. For seven years there hasn’t been a driver from Japan, so I hope they will enjoy my driving, and I will just try to get as good a result as possible for them.
Tsunoda is the first Japanese driver on the F1 grid since Kamui Kobayashi back in 2014
‘Kobayashi got a podium in Suzuka I think, P3. That was really impressive. He knows the feeling of standing on the podium with Japanese fans in the grandstand, so I want to see that view this year.
‘It is possible. Suzuka is one of my favourite tracks and I think I am really good there. Because when I was racing in Japan at Suzuka, I always win there. But like I say it is Formula One and every driver is fast, so it’s not easy but I’ll just drive hard and I’ll see what happens.’
There is plenty of racing in front of him before he can attempt to fulfil that dream and as Tsunoda has been keen to express, this first season is all about consolidating his position on the F1 grid and gaining valuable experience.
But beyond that, there are high expectations on his shoulders and he certainly won’t let that faze him.
While AlphaTauri are firmly on his mind for the time being, Red Bull may soon come calling and he could just be the long-term partner for Verstappen that Christian Horner has desperately been craving.
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