With the 2020 Formula One season concluded, and the onslaught of Lewis Hamilton collecting new records and accolades put on hold for a few months, we look to the exciting prospects of 2021. Provisionally set to commence in Melbourne on March 21, one of the stories of the offseason so far has been a new driver joining AlphaTauri.
Finishing seventh in the Constructors’ World Championship last season – a mere 24 points down on Ferrari – AlphaTauri is already proving to be quite the exciting team. Next season, however, all eyes will be on their fast-tracked young racer from Japan, Yuki Tsunoda. He’ll be the first driver from the nation since Kamui Kobayashi’s undeservingly underwhelming finish with Caterham in 2014.
So, why’s there so much hype surrounding Tsunoda, and what bar has been set by his compatriots in Formula One?
The Standards Set For Tsunoda
Formula One has welcomed 20 Japanese drivers into its teams over the last 45 years, with 17 of them taking part in at least one race. The 17 drivers from Japan have participated in 412 Grand Prix races, three podium finishes, and two fastest laps, claiming 125 points combined.
The first to get his chance in the F1 from the Asian nation was Hiroshi Fushida in 1975, with Formula Scout reporting that all of Masahiro Hasemi, Kazuyoshi Hoshino, Noritake Takahara, and Masami Kuwashima followed suit to qualify for the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix.
Hoshino is ranked by The Race as the best of the earliest batch of Japanese racers in the F1. The supremely talented driver impressed in his brief showings but decided to stick to domestic contests mostly. Next, Takuma Sato stands among the best for his US GP podium in 2004 and spirited, speedy racing.
Japan’s most recent representative managed to raise the bar. Finishing in the points in 27 of his 75 starts, including a podium finish, to claim 125 career points, Kamui Kobayashi has set the standard for Yuki Tsunoda to attempt to surpass.
The Excitement Surrounding Tsunoda
While Japan has produced several exciting and competitive racers, it takes a great deal of talent and the right team alignment for any driver to become a world-beater. Tsunoda appears to be on the right track to grow into a competitive role in the years to come.
AlphaTauri is one of the two teams owned by Red Bull, with the old “Toro Rosso” team often seen as being the development or reserve seats for the team that seats Max Verstappen. What’s exciting about Tsunoda is that he’s reached F1 following single-season spells in F3 and F2, per Crash, and is still only 20-years-old.
As it stands, Mercedes’ star man is still very much ahead of the pack in the eyes of the experts. Those at Space Casino tasked with predicting the 2021 F1 season have Lewis Hamilton ahead at -250. However, they also place Valtteri Bottas and Verstappen at close +500 odds, showing that the Red Bull car may be closing the gap.
Tsunoda will, naturally, need plenty of time in an F1 seat to develop into a caliber worthy of a first-team seat for Red Bull. That said, AlphaTauri will allow him to challenge in the middle of the grid, and over the next few seasons, the gap between Red Bull and Mercedes could close, potentially putting the young Japanese racer in a prime position to become his nation’s highest-placing racer.
There’s a lot of driving ahead for Tsunoda, but given the talent shown in the lower levels, he certainly has the look of a future star in Formula One.