Formula 1 | Yuki Tsunoda takes stock bluntly: “I was a lazy bastard!”

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He overtook Fernando Alonso in the very first Formula 1 race and collected championship points. But then it got tough for AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda: Accidents increased, teammate Pierre Gasly was often much stronger and meaningful results did not always come up.

And so Tsunoda draws a relentless conclusion and finds clear words for his appearance, in the style of his pithy statements on the radio. Core sentence: “Until I moved to Italy, I was a lazy sack.”

Red Bull sports director Helmut Marko ordered this move after Tsunoda’s performance in the first phase of the season did not meet expectations. AlphaTauri team boss Franz Tost should thus have better access to his Formula 1 driver and be able to “orient” Tsunoda better to his actual tasks.

Formula 1 not taken seriously

Because Tsunoda himself admits that he didn’t take Formula 1 seriously enough at first. He explains: “After training I went straight back to my apartment, turned on the Playstation and gambled the rest of the day. Then, during race week, the rush started. Only then did I start my preparations and I think then it was too late.”

It seemed as if the young Japanese had been dazzled by his Formula 1 debut in Bahrain. In the opening race, he finished ninth in the points and thus achieved a goal for the season right in the first Grand Prix.

In fact, Tsunoda admits to having underestimated the Formula 1 task. “I would say: I had too much confidence. I felt like it was too easy because I [in Bahrain] hadn’t had a major incident or anything like that. I had it under control. So I figured it would be easy.”

The qualifying crash at Imola? “Bad luck”!

He didn’t let his qualifying crash at Imola upset him either. “I held [den Abflug] bad luck,” he says. “My confidence was still there.”

But then more incidents followed, and these gradually left their mark on Tsunoda, as he says: “It knocked my confidence. And I realized: It was quite difficult, much more difficult than I had thought.”

How Tsunoda realized something was going wrong

Tsunoda was stuck in Formula 1. “All my preparation was wasted,” he explains. Because he had gotten involved in Formula 1 just as he had in the junior series Formula 2. “But it drives under a completely different format,” says Tsunoda.

“There’s only one free practice session and then it goes straight into qualifying. That’s why I tried in Formula 2 to be fully there from the first lap. But that’s difficult to implement in Formula 1. The risk in the Landing on a wall and losing a lot of track time is big, then you need to build up your confidence again before the second free practice.”

For him, his adherence to the Formula 2 approach meant that he “had no more self-confidence at all” in Formula 1, because failure followed failure.

This came as a complete surprise to the high-flyer from Japan, who from 2018 had switched directly to the next higher series every year: “I had never experienced that before. It was hard. And then I had to fight.”

The defining moment of the 2021 season

The move dictated by Marko and the schedule dictated by Tost helped Tsunoda settle into Formula One. But only in the last third of the season did it “click” for the AlphaTauri driver: The Grand Prix in Turkey was the key moment in a real roller coaster year, says Tsunoda in retrospect.

“Until then I was just trying not to make a big mistake and keep the car on the track. That’s why I was pretty slow because I was concentrating on not crashing,” he explains.

In Turkey, however, he realized how wrong this attitude was. “I realized how slow I was, so I had to push harder,” says Tsunoda. “Because in Formula 1, it’s all about results and pace. So I gave myself a different attitude. And then came [sieben] Races in a row where I didn’t have an accident. That’s why I’m here today.”

Change of chassis contributes to feel-good factor

A chassis change at the same Grand Prix, also in Istanbul, also made a positive contribution to the trend reversal. “Before, I wasn’t able to catch the car. But with the new chassis, I felt like I could control the car a lot better,” says Tsunoda.

On paper, however, the first half of the season looks better, with five out of a total of seven top 10 results in the 2021 season. However: Tsunoda achieved the best individual result in the final race in Abu Dhabi with fourth place.

When looking at the qualifying statistics, however, it is noticeable that from the Turkish Grand Prix onwards, Tsunoda was only once outside the top 10 of the starting grid in seven appearances. Before that, he had only finished in the top ten in qualifying three times. And at the very end he inflicted the only defeat in the qualifying duel of the AlphaTauri drivers on Gasly.

Tsunoda: Perform better in 2022, beat Gasly!

So Tsunoda’s 2021 season ended as forgiving as it began. But a bitter aftertaste remains for the Japanese. He says: “I had never had a season with such ups and downs before, so it was definitely an important year for me.”

“But what makes me happy: I’ve learned something new even in bad situations. And I’m happy with my performance and my progress. It was a really big learning year in which I gained a lot of experience. Not much more was possible. And now, where I’ve seen the good and the bad, I can look ahead.”

Red Bull has confirmed Tsunoda for another year with AlphaTauri in Formula 1, and the second season will be “really important” for the further course of his career, says Tsunoda.

His sporting goals for 2022: “It’s about having a constant pace and beating your team-mate. And I now know the details where I need to improve so that I’m constantly ahead of my team-mate. The ingredients are there, thanks the very good preparatory year. I now know how to develop the car in order to be faster.”

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