For Yuki Tsunoda, his first year in Formula 1 is over. In Abu Dhabi, the Japanese managed to secure an impressive fourth place, ending his season on a positive note. Still, this result will mask a lot for the rookie. His year was marked by few ups and above all by a lot of downs. Even the driver began to doubt his future in Formula 1.
Tsunoda was allowed to make the switch from Formula 2 to Formula 1 this winter. He managed to take third place in the championship with Carlin’s team. In this way he secured himself a place with the AlphaTauri team, but the background of the driver and Red Bull Racing’s collaboration with Honda were also pointed out. However, his performance in Formula 2 was certainly good enough to secure a seat in the premier class of motorsport. Still, the step was very big for the rookie, especially in the beginning.
Tsunoda starts promising, but forget to press
Expectations around Tsunoda were quite high and initially the young driver lived up to these expectations. At the first Grand Prix in Bahrain, Tsunoda did not get further than thirteenth place in qualifying, but he managed to drive himself into the points straight away. Throughout the race, the AlphaTauri driver had some impressive overtaking maneuvers on the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. On the last lap of the race he came into a fight with Lance Stroll. He passed the Canadian at the start of the lap and didn’t give up on ninth position.
The hype surrounding Tsunoda therefore did not seem unfounded. Still, the slump came quite early for the young driver. The Grand Prix weekend in Imola, right after Bahrain, was one to quickly forget for Tsunoda. During qualifying, the AlphaTauri driver went a bit too eager in the Variante Alta. This resulted in a violent crash and Tsunoda landed with both feet on the ground again. The results were not forthcoming after his good race in Bahrain. In Azerbaijan, Tsunoda finally scored points again, but had to stop again on the last lap of qualifying due to a crash. Uncertainty increased among the rookie.
The lost battle against teammate Gasly
Besides the fact that Tsunoda had to get used to a new environment and the Formula 1 car, the young driver also had to deal with Pierre Gasly. Since Gasly’s return to Red Bull’s sister team, the Frenchman has been in top form. The first person to beat a Formula 1 driver is his teammate. Tsunoda was beaten quite convincingly by teammate Gasly. The Japanese managed to finish five times higher in a race and was only once faster in qualifying.
The single race winner also failed to finish three of those five races. Only in Great Britain and Abu Dhabi did both drivers reach the finish line, and Tsunoda crossed the line before his teammate. The gap in points is therefore immense; Gasly took 110 points, while Tsunoda only managed to collect 32 points. It’s no shame the rookie loses to an experienced driver like Gasly, but his AlphaTauri was good enough to get over 32 points.
Tsunoda surprised by contract extension
Tsunoda failed to score points in most race weekends this season. In fifteen of the 22 races this season, the rider finished outside the top ten. However, the Japanese contract was extended by a year halfway through the season. The rookie therefore saw the contract extension as a surprise. “I was surprised because I crashed a lot in the beginning and just wasn’t consistent enough. I thought I hadn’t improved myself well enough this year.’
AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost allowed his driver time to grow in Formula 1. The Austrian said the sport can be quite overwhelming for a rookie. “The sport is so complex, it is so difficult that you cannot expect a young driver to immediately show the experienced men the way. Tsunoda has done quite well so far.” It gave Tsunoda some confidence in the final laps of the season. The driver’s results were better after his contract extension than before.
Tsunoda .’s forgotten overtaking maneuver
After the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix it was really only about one thing and that was the fact that Max Verstappen managed to win the title on the last lap of the last race. Tsunoda’s spectacular overtake at Valtteri Bottas was completely covered in snow. Moreover, this was the weekend where the driver outperformed Gasly all weekend. It was the ending Tsunoda could only dream of. Still, like the Bahrain race, the race showed the rider’s potential.
It was clear that Tsunoda needed this season to grow in the sport. He may have had too good a result in the first race of the season, because he was unable to live up to expectations until the last race of the year. The gap with Gasly this season was simply too big to speak of a successful season. It is difficult to predict whether Tsunoda in 2022 will maintain the form of the last weekend or fall back. At least he gets the chance and maybe that’s the fairest choice. Still, it will be a hit or miss for Tsunoda next year.