Yuki Tsunoda is poised to be confirmed as an AlphaTauri Formula 1 driver after guaranteeing himself a superlicence in style, winning the penultimate Formula 2 race of the season.
Red Bull and Honda protege Tsunoda has been identified as AlphaTauri’s preferred partner for Pierre Gasly in F1 next season, tested a two-year-old car at Imola recently and will drive for the team in the post-season young driver test in Abu Dhabi.
However, his F1 graduation retained a question mark as fourth-place finishes in this year’s Toyota Racing Series and the 2019 Euroformula Open championship (which earned him more superlicence points than finishing ninth in Formula 3) meant the 2018 Japanese Formula 4 champion needed a top-five finish in his rookie F2 season to qualify for a superlicence.
Tsunoda entered the final round of the season in fifth place, eight points clear of Christian Lundgaard, and extended that advantage to 12 points by claiming pole for the Sakhir feature race.
Lundgaard qualified sixth but almost stalled at the start and fell to the back of the field, which meant Tsunoda only need to finish seventh in the race to score enough points to guarantee fifth in the standings.
Tsunoda was overtaken by Nikita Mazepin and Robert Shwartzman and ran third for most of the race, but repassed Shwartzman for second in the final quarter.
He then latched onto the back of Mazepin in the closing laps, aided by Lundgaard unlapping himself and disrupting the lead battle, and passed him to win for the third time this year and jump to third in the championship.
It was announced however that Tsunoda was under investigation for a Turn 1 incident, potentially for having been off the racing surface when he came up to Turn 1 to complete the pass on Mazepin. However, unless he is hit by a particularly severe penalty of over 10 seconds, his superlicence situation will not be impacted.
TSUNODA TAKES THE LEAD!
— Formula 2 (@FIA_F2) December 5, 2020
There has been no official confirmation of Tsunoda’s place at AlphaTauri for 2021.
On Friday in Bahrain, when asked by The Race if there was a Plan B should Tsunoda fail to secure the necessary superlicence points, AlphaTauri team boss Franz Tost said: “We have a plan B, of course.
“There’s absolutely no doubt that in Melbourne  Alpha Tauri will have two cars on the starting grid with two very competitive drivers.”
However, Tsunoda’s result effectively guarantees AlphaTauri will not turn to that Plan B, and will confirm the 20-year-old Japanese driver in due course.
The provisional result of the penultimate race also confirms Haas’s 2021 F1 signing Mazepin, who finished a controversial third, will be eligible for a superlicence despite falling behind Tsunoda in the championship.
Mazepin needs to finish seventh in the championship to get a superlicence, and is now fourth.
The F2 title battle between Mazepin’s 2021 Haas F1 team-mate Mick Schumacher and Callum Ilott will go to the final day of the season, just.
Championship leader Schumacher recovered from his terrible qualifying session to charge from 18th to seventh with fastest lap, while Ilott finished sixth – keeping the gap at 14 points with 17 to race for in Sunday’s sprint race.