There aren't too many drivers in recent history to have hit the ground running in Formula 1 the way Yuki Tsunoda has. In just one race, the Japanese sensation has become the talk of the paddock. Praises have been heaped on the youngster, and many experts believe he could be the next big thing in Formula 1.
The legendary Ross Brawn gave a special mention to Tsunoda in his column and feels he is the best rookie to have stepped into Formula 1 in recent years. However, the biggest praise for the young Japanese came from the head of Red Bull's driver development program, Helmut Marko.
When questioned if Yuki Tsunoda could be Japan's first Formula 1 world champion, Marko told Racefans:
“Definitely. He’s smart and, as I said, for 20 years old, he is very mature. Soon he will be a new star in Formula 1. They all like him. He is a charming, 20-year-old Japanese guy with a sense of humor."
Yuki Tsunoda had a fantastic race for AlphaTauri, finishing in P9 at the Bahrain Grand Prix. However, the Japanese struggled during qualifying, and was knocked out in Q2. Marko blamed the team for putting the rookie out on the Medium compound tire in Q2.
Marko also felt that it was the team's fault to put the young Japanese driver under too much pressure in his first qualifying by sending him out on Mediums in Q2.
Speaking about Tsunoda's exit in Q2, Marko said:
"I think the team should have given him soft tires for his very first qualifying, so he under-performed, It would have been easier for him because he doesn’t have any routine in qualifying.”
Yuki Tsunoda would have won the Formula 2 championship last year: Marko
Yuki Tsunoda breezed through the junior categories of racing. He spent one season in Formula 3 and Formula 2 each, before jumping straight into a Formula 1 cockpit.
Marko spoke about Tsunoda's rapid progression through the junior categories.
"We brought him to Europe. One season in F3, one season in F2, nobody noticed it and bang, in Formula 1.”
The Japanese showed brilliant pace in all categories but was beaten by Mick Schumacher in F2 last season. Key reliability issues hampered Tsunoda's campaign, and he ultimately finished his rookie season in the category in third place.
Speaking about Tsunoda's F2 season, Marko said:
“Without his technical failures he would have won the championship easy."
Yuki Tsunoda has caught the attention of the Formula 1 paddock. The young Japanese driver has the makings of a true superstar, and teams will look at his progression in the series with keen interest. The hype surrounding Tsunoda is justified, however, teams and experts must not get carried away.
Red Bull has a history of promoting young drivers too early, and it always ends badly. Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon are prime examples. Gasly was promoted to Red Bull prematurely and was demoted just as quick. The Frenchman landed on his feet at AlphaTauri, however, the same cannot be said for Albon. The Thai-British driver was named as Gasly's replacement at Red Bull but was dominated by Max Verstappen throughout the season.
Albon is not in Formula 1 anymore, and if Red Bull want to avoid the same fate for Tsunoda, they will not rush his progression.