Red Bull and Honda protege Yuki Tsunoda will get his maiden Formula 1 test in Abu Dhabi after the 2020 season ends, as he vies for a 2021 AlphaTauri race seat.
Tsunoda is a Formula 2 race winner in his rookie season and the best-placed of Red Bull’s proteges to force their way into an F1 drive next year.
The 20-year-old prospect would be the first Japanese driver to race in F1 since Kamui Kobayashi in 2014.
F1’s post-season test in Abu Dhabi this year will be reserved for drivers who have not competed in more than two F1 races in their career, unless otherwise approved by the FIA.
“He is a really high skilled driver and I think he has all the ingredients together to become a successful Formula 1 driver” :: Franz Tost
“I am not only impressed with his driving in Formula 2, I was impressed last year in Formula 3 as well and the years before,” said AlphaTauri team boss Franz Tost at the Belgian Grand Prix.
“He is a really high skilled driver and I think he has all the ingredients together to become a successful Formula 1 driver.
“He for sure will test for us in Abu Dhabi in the young driver test and whether he will drive for us next year or not, this is being decided by Red Bull and depends also on whether he gets the superlicence.
“If he continues like now then he will be within the first three, four drivers in the Formula 2 championship.
“Then it shouldn’t be a problem to receive a superlicence and the rest then we will see.”
It would mean Tsunoda succeeds where fellow Honda proteges Nobuharu Matushita, Nirei Fukuzumi and Tadasuke Makino failed, as they never progressed beyond F2 – though Matsushita did test for Sauber back in 2017 (pictured).
Tsunoda is a very exciting prospect who has made an instant impact on the F1 support package after taking a little while to develop back home in Japan.
It wasn’t until his third season at Formula 4 level that he won the Japanese title, and that was his second year as part of the Honda Formula Dream Project.
But the momentum of that championship success was under threat immediately with a big step up to international level, as his move into Formula 3 was complemented by a season old-style F3 machinery as well in Euroformula Open.
Tsunoda was impressive in both categories though, becoming a race winner in each in his first year as a fully-fledged Red Bull protege as well as a Honda junior.
His F3 success was particularly noteworthy given he was driving for Jenzer. Tsunoda scored all 67 of his team’s points in 2019, and Jenzer is not a big-hitter like ART, Prema or other leading F3 entities.
One lingering doubt about Tsunoda, or rather a point of improvement, was his maturity and communication with the team.
There were examples of him handling moments of peak stress sub-optimally in F3, such as telling his engineer to “shut up” when being given brake-bias advice at Monza, in tricky conditions.
The speed has been evident, but insiders suggest Tsunoda has fostered a better team dynamic too
But Tsunoda did go on to win that race – his first and only victory of his strong, underdog season – so perhaps that was his ‘Kimi Raikkonen, Abu Dhabi 2012’ moment.
Nonetheless added maturity is essential as a driver rises through the ranks, and it’s something Tsunoda has exhibited this year in F2.
An immediate move to the next level was a big step for Red Bull and Honda to hand him, but he has responded in impressive fashion.
The speed has been evident, but insiders suggest Tsunoda has fostered a better team dynamic too. He has responded to setbacks more encouragingly, and a maiden win at Silverstone was overdue after being robbed earlier in the year at the Red Bull Ring.
He also produced a resilient performance at Barcelona despite being left out on old tyres under a safety car and given the task of fending off multiple drivers on fresher rubber with several laps remaining.
Tsunoda didn’t manage to win, or even finish on the podium, but fourth was still better than the situation indicated was likely.
The upshot is Honda and Red Bull have a protege who has some excellent attributes, is still developing, learning and improving, and is outperforming more experienced or fancied runners in an F2 grid that has some very interesting talents.
He’s fourth in the standings as a rookie and that alone means his F1 test opportunity is merited. What he does in that test, and over the rest of the season, will determine what chances arise thereafter.
But he is in this position for a reason. Tsunoda may well be the real deal, his stock is rising at just the right time.
Unfortunate circumstances mean fellow protege and 2019 Formula 3 rival Juri Vips’s Super Formula campaign is on the ropes and he is with an unfancied team in the Formula Regional European series – though he is making his F2 debut this weekend in place of the injured Sean Gelael.
Tsunoda is therefore the prime candidate to replace Daniil Kvyat at AlphaTauri next season if his development continues in this vein.