Japanese rookie Tsunoda aims for instant F1 impact at AlphaTauri

by AFP / Pic by AFP

TOKYO – Yuki Tsunoda said Monday he was confident his attacking driving style would give Japanese fans plenty to cheer when he makes his Formula One debut for AlphaTauri next season.

The 20-year-old will become the first Japanese driver to compete in Formula One since Kamui Kobayashi in 2014 after the team last week announced he would replace Russia’s Daniil Kvyat.

Tsunoda was named FIA rookie of the year on Saturday after finishing third in his debut season with British team Carlin in the Formula 2 championship, and the Japanese driver wants to make a similar impact when he steps up in class next year.

“My strong point is my attacking style, and I’m confident that people who see me driving will be impressed by it,” the 20-year-old, who won three Formula 2 races in 2020 with seven podium finishes and four pole positions, told reporters during an online press conference.

“I’m a rookie, so for the first half of the season I want to double down on my attacking style and take it as far as I can, even if I make mistakes,” he added.

Tsunoda, who is backed by the junior programme of AlphaTauri’s engine supplier Honda, will join France’s Pierre Gasly at the Italian team next season.

“My teammate has a lot of experience and I want to absorb as much as I can from him while also seeing how far my potential can take me,” said Tsunoda.

“Then, for the second half of the season, I want to use everything I’ve learned and try to improve with every race.”

The diminutive 1.59 metre (5ft 3in) Japanese admitted he will have to hit the gym over the winter to cope with the Formula One car’s superior power and downforce after driving 123 laps during his Formula One test in Abu Dhabi earlier this month. 

“In Formula 2, I didn’t really notice my neck moving forward when I braked, but when I drove an F1 car and hit the brakes for the first time, I really felt the G-force on my neck,” said Tsunoda.

“At the end of the day, if I didn’t rest my head against the headrest, I couldn’t even lift it. I’m going to have to strengthen my neck muscles in order to compete next season.”

Tsunoda, who said he was so nervous when signing his AlphaTauri contract that he could barely hold his pen, is looking forward to the 2021 Japanese Grand Prix after this year’s race weekend was axed because of coronavirus.

He said he was inspired watching seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton race at Suzuka when he was seven or eight years old and would love to have a similar impact on the next generation of fans.

“This year has been tough but the Japanese Grand Prix will be at Suzuka next year and I’d love fans to come and see it for themselves. My strong point is my overtaking, and I’d love fans to come and watch me.”