By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Scuderia AlphaTauri confirmed Wednesday that highly touted 20-year-old Japanese racer Yuki Tsunoda will be paired alongside Pierre Gasly for the 2021 Formula One season, replacing Daniil Kyvat.
Tusnoda is set to become the 21st different driver representing Japan in a grand prix weekend and the first since Kamui Kobayashi in 2014. Not only that, Tsunoda will make history as he’ll be the first 21st century born competitor to hit the F1 grid.
Tsunoda, who needed to finish fifth or better in this season’s F2 championship to get a Super License, had a stellar rookie campaign with the Red Bull sponsored Carlin entry. He scored seven podiums, highlighted with two feature race wins at Silverstone II and Spa along with a sprint victory at Bahrain’s outer circuit.
With those success feats, it was more than strong enough for Tsunoda to finish third in the championship behind the now Scuderia Ferrari reserved/test driver Callum Illot and Haas F1’s Mick Schumacher.
Tsunoda said he’s very happy with Wednesday’s news, knowing that his goal of becoming an F1 driver will become a reality.
“I want to thank Scuderia AlphaTauri, Red Bull and Dr. (Helmuth) Marko for giving me this opportunity, and of course everyone from Honda, for all their support so far in my career, giving me great opportunities to race in Europe,” said Tsunoda. “I must also thank the teams that I have raced with to get to this point, particularly Carlin, with whom I have learned so much this year. I realise that I will be carrying the hopes of a lot of Japanese F1 fans next year and I will be doing my best for them too.”
AlphaTauri’s Team Principal Franz Tost stated he’s eyed on Tsunoda’s rapid progress in the junior formula category (F4 in 2018, F3 in 2019 and F2 in 2020) for quite awhile.
More so, when he realized Tsunoda is a quick learner following the team test at Imola last month and this past Monday’s Young Driver Test at Abu Dhabi where he was ninth and fifth quickest in the two sessions.
“I am sure he will be a great asset to our team. Watching him in Formula 2 this year, he has demonstrated the right mix of racing aggression and good technical understanding,” said Tost. “During the test in Imola in November when he drove our 2018 car, his lap times were very consistent over a race simulation, he progressed throughout the day and gave our engineers useful feedback.
“In addition, his integration with the Honda engineers has been seamless, which certainly helps. At the test in Abu Dhabi this week, he proved to be a fast learner and that he is ready to make the step to Formula One.”
With Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin already confirmed in both Haas entries, Tsunoda will be the third and final 2021 F1 rookie on the grid because there’s two vacant seats left.
One being the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team which is expected to be seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton’s seat once again. The other coming from Red Bull Racing, which will either go to current driver Alexander Albon or Sakhir Grand Prix winner Sergio Perez.
As for AlphaTauri, they’re looking to improve on their encouraging seventh-place in the Constructors’ Championship, highlighted with Gasly’s maiden F1 grand prix victory at Monza which marked the team’s first since Sebastian Vettel at the same venue 12 years prior.
The now free agent Kvyat scored points in 7 of 17 races with a superb fourth at Imola being his best outing. Compared to Gasly, who ended up with 10 points finishes and 10th in the Drivers’ Championship, Kvyat wound up 14th in the final points tally.