AlphaTauri F1 driver Yuki Tsunoda says his interest in motorsport only truly became serious at 16 years old, also discussing his father’s role in his racing.
Tsunoda began racing single seaters at that age, after graduating from Honda’s Suzuka Circuit Racing School and advancing to Japanese F4 in 2016. Though he insists that at the time he did enjoy racing, he says he was far too distracted at this age.
After 2016 – the year of his 16th birthday – began a rapid career ascension for Tsunoda, with two further seasons in in Japanese F4 leading to a switch to F3 and Euroformula open in 2019, before moving to F2 where the Japanese driver found success in 2020.
Tsunoda will be making his F1 debut later this year, after just four years in single-seaters. When asked about a letter that he would write to his younger self, the Japanese stated that he would want his younger self to be more serious about racing from early on itself.
“Start putting all your energy into racing earlier than I did, without being distracted by other things,” said Tsunoda. “Until I was 16, I was not that excited about racing. I don’t mean I didn’t like it, but I didn’t put as much effort in as I should have done.
Tsunoda started karting in 2010 after his visit to Fuji when he saw Lewis Hamilton win the 2007 Japanese GP. It was his father who took him to the race and throughout his career, his dad has supported him by teaching him the tricks of the trade early on in his career.
“My father was my mechanic until I was around 14 or 15 years old,” said Tsunoda. “I have to thank him for all the success I have so far – he has helped me to become a better driver. Braking was one thing he taught me the most, particularly how and when to brake.
“He taught me that braking is very important going into the corner and that can make the car rotate and if you can rotate the car more than others, you can apply the throttle again earlier than others. I practiced that a lot in karting. It gave me a lot of confidence and I still use what I learned even today,” Tsunoda explained.
Apart from his father, Tsunoda also has good words for former F1 driver Satoru Nakajima, who spotted his talent in the Honda shootout. The Japanese revealed that he finished third in the test and the norm was to select only Top 2 finishers, but the racer intervened.
Nakajima told Honda to take Tsunoda in, considering his talent. The Japanese admitted that finishing third was his worst moment as he thought about giving up then, while his best was at Monza in 2019, when he secured his first F3 win with Jenzer.
“The worst was in 2016, when I was doing the Honda Junior Driver Test and I came third,” said Tsunoda. “Normally Honda takes the first two drivers to move to Formula 4. I had discussed the test with my father and had decided that if I did not get through, I would give up racing. But the person in charge was former F1 driver Satoru Nakajima.
“He was watching from the outside of the chicane and he recommended me to Honda and that’s why I got a Formula 4 drive with Honda. So, it was down to him. The best moment was Monza in Formula 3 in 2019.
“I think I would not have been in F2 the following year without that win. It was my first win in Europe so I have many happy memories from that day,” summed up Tsunoda, who is out again at Imola for another round of test runs ahead of his 2021 F1 debut.
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Here’s Yuki Tsunoda testing with AlphaTauri