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IS YUKI TSUNODA REALLY THAT FAST?

Alpha Tauri driver Yuki Tsunoda posted the second fastest lap time during the pre-season testing sessions in Bahrain, a mere one tenth of a second behind Max Verstappen, widely considered as one of the fastest drivers in Formula 1. Quite remarkable for someone who is fresh into his rookie season and fresh into the big league.

Yuki did have opportunities to drive the 2020 Alpha Tauri car last season during the young driver test sessions, completing 122 laps around the Abu Dhabi circuit and finishing fifth overall on the time sheets; more than a second behind the fastest time posted by Fernando Alonso (who somehow snuck in as a ‘young driver’ at the age of 39). This was also a second behind Robert Kubica in an Alfa Romeo and even behind Stoffel Vandoorne, the perennial DNF merchant of the 2018 season. Little in that young driver test suggested Yuki had any exceptional talent or was going to light up the timing screens in pre-season testing, but boy did he surprise us by doing just that.

AND YOU DON'T GET INTO THOSE PROJECTS WITHOUT DEMONSTRATING SOME SERIOUS TALENT.

Yuki joins the 2021 Formula 1 grid with quite some pedigree for such a young age. The 21 year old is part of the Honda Formula Dream Project as well as being part of the Red Bull Junior Team, and you don’t get into those projects without demonstrating some serious talent. He was the 2018 Japanese F4 Champion, a newly established FIA regulated series started in 2015 by Formula 1 legend Gerhard Berger to help develop young drivers’ careers with the aim of achieving a drive in higher series. Yuki won four races and appeared on the podium eleven times and clinched the title in a dramatic final leg of the fourteen race season.

This led to the opportunity to drive for Jenzer Motorsport in the 2019 FIA Formula 3 series, and despite driving for a team that ultimately finished seventh of ten in the constructors standing for that year, Yuki was able to win a race at Monza and podium three times, gaining enough points to finish comfortably in the top half of the drivers’ table. Most interesting was the fact that Yuki won the only points for the Jenzer team in that season: he was starting to show his skill and separate himself from drivers in the same car.

Last year, Yuki moved up to Formula 2 driving for Carlin, formerly home of notable drivers such as Nico Rosberg, Daniel Ricciardo, Lando Norris and even four time world champion Sebastian Vettel. This didn’t faze the young driver from Japan, he drove exceptionally well to finish third overall, winning three races and finishing just 15 points behind the series winner, Mick Schumacher. The four pole positions stand out among his achievements considering only five drivers actually achieved a pole position the entire year. 

Yuki Tsunoda clearly has talent and he is already starting to demonstrate speed. We are sure Pierre Gasly did not enjoy finishing 1.4 seconds behind his new team mate, and he will be keen to close that gap when racing starts next week. It’s early days and many a heart has been broken by early promise during pre-season test sessions not materialising during the actual season, but we are certainly looking forward to seeing if Yuki can light up the timing screens again.