Smart and small Tsunoda is Japan’s best chance for a champion – Marko

2021 Bahrain Grand Prix

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AlphaTauri rookie Yuki Tsunoda is on his way to becoming Formula 1’s newest star, Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko predicted.

The 20-year-old scored two points by finishing ninth on his debut last weekend, the best result for a Japanese newcomer since 2009.

“He’s smart and as I said, for 20 years, very mature,” said Marko.

Tsunoda quickly made himself popular at AlphaTauri since his first F1 test with the team at Imola four months ago.

“Soon he will be a new star Formula 1,” said Marko. “They all like him. He is a charming, 20-year-old Japanese guy with a sense of humour.”

The rookie’s diminutive dimensions makes him an ideal fit for a Formula 1 cockpit, Marko added: “159 [centimetres] and 61 kilos, so all designers love him!”

AlphaTauri “had all sorts of troubles” adapting their car and simulator for their new driver, Marko explained.

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“The pedals was the main thing, we had to bring the pedals forward. The simulator we still struggle to have the right seat for him.”

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021
Biography: Yuki Tsunoda
He reached the points from 13th on the grid, having gone out in the second round of qualifying when he failed to make the cut for Q3 on medium compound tyres.

“I think the team should have given him soft tyres for his very, very first qualifying, so he underperformed,” said Marko. “It would have been easier for him because he doesn’t have any routine in qualifying.”

Tsunoda has made his F1 debut just two years after arriving in Europe from Japan, where he won the regional Formula 4 championship in 2018.

“We brought him in Europe,” said Marko. “One season in F3, one season in F2, nobody noticed it and bang, in Formula 1.”

Tsunoda finished third in F2 last year, 15 points behind champion Mick Schumacher, and top-placed rookie. “Without his technical failures he would have won the championship easy,” Marko believes.

Asked by RaceFans whether Tsunoda would probably be Japan’s first F1 champion, Marko said: “Definitely.”

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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35 comments on “Smart and small Tsunoda is Japan’s best chance for a champion – Marko”

  1. Tsunoda’s first weekend was very solid, and he is definitely an interesting character on and off the track. I am a new fan of his!

  2. Off course Helmut. Every driver they brought into STR/AT in the last few years were their countries best hope of a world champion. And Off course Tsunoda is Japan’s best hope in the next 5-8 years, if only because he is the ONLY hope. Just like currently Mazepin is Russia’s only (be it quite a bit less likely) hope for an F1 champion.

    Yes, thank you for getting him here. It is a joy watching him drive. I am looking forward to seeing how he develops. Please don’t put your classical far too high pressure on him to destroy that Marko. Don’t haste his development with immediately wanting to put him through the grinder at RB next year.

    1. Robert Shwartzman is Russia’s best hope of an F1 champion, not Mazepin. I’ve got as much chance of being a Russian F1 Champion as Mazepin and I’m Welsh.

      1. :)
        Made me laugh…

      2. +1
        I consider Shwartzaman being a much likelier contender for a WDC title at F1 than Mazepin, even now, despite of him being an F2 driver, and after a not so good opening weekend for him there in his sophomore season. Compared to Mazepin he is much more professional, much more cold blooded, very likely more talented, more handsome as a man, without controversies, much more marketable (in a market where there is fair race).

  3. I won’t get too excited too soon, cos both Sato and Kobayash both had moments of excellence, but Tsunoda does seem to be a great talent.
    I can’t remember who said it over the weekend, but his highs are exceptionally high, his lows not so great, but its easier to learn consistency than it is to go faster.
    He’s got the raw talent, lets see how well he develops (and how well Red Bull let him develop!).

    1. He should easily be the best japanese driver ever in f1, just like alonso for spain, both countries that didn’t have a lot of talent, I believe no spanish driver but alonso and no japanese driver ever won a race.

      1. @esploratore
        He is miles away from having Sato’s talent. Sato would’ve completely crushed that F2 field last year.

  4. Will be interesting to see how he stacks up against Gasly. Gasly has been mightily impressive all of last season… and he’s set the bar pretty high for the 2nd Alpha Tauri driver.

  5. I see TSU replacing Perez for 2022.

    1. Hopefully not, they need to give these young guys a couple years at least at the junior team instead of chucking them in at the deep end so quickly.

    2. I think not. Their whole experience with Kvyat, Gasly and Albon has finally made them realize the value of experience and patience and hence, they hired Checo.

      With Tsunoda, I think they will give him 2 seasons in AT before graduating to RB. Plus, with all speculation of LH retiring and MV going to Merc, Red Bull won’t be too hasty with their drivers now.

      I think the real question mark in all this is going to be Gasly. He has been overlooked for the main team last year and now faces the prospect of going against an improving Tsunoda. He needs to agree to a deal to race elsewhere quickly before the intra-team battle heats up.

      Sainz was also left in Toro Rosso for far too long.. then used as a pawn in the Honda / Renault engine shuffle of Mclaren / Red Bull but somehow landed a seat in the Mclaren even though he was out-raced by Hulk. JEV was also left in Toro Rosso for far too long. He then eventually became a Formula E champion. While both Sainz and JEV did well inspite of their prolonged junior team stints, there has been a fair bit of luck involved. But such luck doesn’t come to all. Gasly’s management needs to make the moves fast.

      1. @sumedh If I was putting a bet on it, I would say Gasly would be moving to Alpine next. This has been mooted for a while now and his words in his recent blog post around the Anthoine Hubert weekend, where I just got the impression he was less than complimentary about Red Bull and his demotion, and he said things about them that could have gone without saying, made me think he has stopped playing the corporate game where Red Bull are concerned, and has decided the RBR seat won’t be happening, while having the comfortable distance of working with AlphaTauri for now.

        As for Tsunoda. It’s a bit obvious to state that the only current Japanese driver on the grid is Japan’s best chance at a champion. He literally is. Here’s hoping, unlike Gasly, Red Bull treat him right and give him the opportunity to properly fulfil his potential and move up to Red Bull at the right time.

        1. @bealzbob yeah, the piece that Gasly did made me think he’s certainly off to Alpine, it’s just a question of when. Despite how Red Bull can be seen to be very critical of their drivers, you never hear anything in response from drivers, I was surprised Gasly was confident enough to speak so candidly. Right now however, that Alpha Tauri looks quick, and the Alpine, not so much.

          1. sumedh @bealzbob @bernasaurus I won’t profess to know what Gasly might want to do wrt leaving AT, but at the same time I wasn’t surprised by anything he said ‘untoward’ about his time at RBR, for I thought he had pretty much said it already anyway. When his recent article was presented as speaking his truth, I was actually expecting something more ‘inside,’ something very revealing about his treatment there, and yet I pretty much had surmised everything he said from things we read after he was initially sent back to STR/AT two seasons ago.

            Not sure Alpine is looking to replace Ocon, but if so perhaps PG would be tempted, if they were interested, but for now he is obviously not so bent out of shape over his time at RBR that he can’t stand still being part of the RBR family, and he’s in a pretty darn good car with a pretty darn good pu, and seems pretty happy and grateful.

            I think he is happier where he is than you above are claiming. He should be stoked to do better than ever this year with this pu, and should be fine rising, if he needs to, to Tsunoda as a teammate.

            Rodber I certainly agree with others that it would be way premature to promote Tsunoda to RBR replacing Perez next year, and I’m sure they won’t. And it’s not like RBR needed to learn a lesson from PG and AA, just they their hand was forced when DR left, but now they have Perez. I think they knew all along PG and AA were risky prospects, but they were trying to keep it in-house and didn’t have a lot of options when it came down to it. Perez being prematurely released from AM when SV had been released from Ferrari, changed the game/options moreso than it was RBR learning a lesson about drivers not ready for a top team.

  6. And there he goes again! Dr. Helmut Marko, destroying young drivers’ careers since 2005.
    He said the same things about Klien, Liuzzi, Speed, Alguersuari, Kvyat, Gasly and Albon and we know how their careers turned out. Gasly might still turn it around though, but certainly not at RB.

    So far, the only RB-junior to win a world title is Vettel, with Verstappen being a candidate this season. The rest either never got to show their real talent in a competitive car (Ricciardo), ended up disappointing (the drivers I mentioned above) or never got a fair chance at RB (Sainz).
    That RB young-driver-programme isn’t really a success story, is it?!

    1. @srga91
      I think Verstappen cannot be considered not a RB junior. He technically joined the program in August 2014 but Marko offered him an F1 seat at Toro Rosso straightway just to counter the Mercedes offer.

    2. @srga91 Did he say the same of those other drivers you reference? Did he say they’d be their countries next best hope of being Champion?

      Of course the RB young-driver-program has been a success story for the drivers who were lucky enough to get seats in F1 and have their day in the sun to show themselves, which amongst all the drivers that wish and hope to make it to F1 is like the odds of getting hit by lightning.

      All well and good to say in hindsight that it didn’t work out for them, but it wasn’t for lack of the opportunity that so many don’t get. Never got a fair chance? Of course they did. At some point some of it (a lot of it) has to be put on them to rise and shine.

      If Marko is so terrible would he have even given these drivers the time of day? Yet he did. They were lucky to have it.

      1. @robbie
        Regarding Daniil Kvyat Helmut Marko said the following about the russian driver after his debut at Australia in 2014: “I have absolutely no doubt that Daniil will become world champion in the future.”
        Well, we know how far off he was with that prediction.

        I was seeing it from RB’s point of view. Apart from Vettel, no other RB or Toro Rosso/Alpha Tauri driver showed that he is capable of winning the WDC-title (not even Ricciardo) and the jury about Verstappen is still out. He has to prove he can perform on the hghest level over a full season and not just grab the occasional win.

        Some of their drivers never got the chance to drive the RB car. Sainz was doing really well at TR in 2017, but instead they loaned him to Renault, which didn’t do him any good. Moving to McLaren in 2019 was the best thing that could’ve happened to his career and now he is at a top team.
        Antonio Felix da Costa was a very promising junior driver (Formula 2.0 NEC champion, two time Macau GP winner, finished 3rd in GP3 and Formula Renault 3.5), but never got a chance to prove himself in F1. He later proved in Formula E and WEC that he is a very capable driver (FE champion last season, 2nd & 3rd during the last two seasons in the LMP2-category).

        You either impressed RB from the very beginning or you were out. The drivers weren’t given any time to develop their talent/improve their skills. It seems like 2nd and 3rd places in the best single seater championships weren’t enough to impress Helmut Marko at that time.
        Also Sergio Perez revealed recently, that he had a test with RB in 2007 (if i remember correctly). He didn’t even fit into the car and was pushing the steering wheel with his legs, which made steering very difficult. After that he wasn’t given a second chance again at RB.
        This just shows how ruthless the system is and what’s wrong with it. Had Perez not had such good connections to Carlos Slim, he wouldn’t have even made it to GP2, let alone F1.

        1. @srga91 Fair enough you seem to have inside knowledge of how it was for them, but I was speaking as much to them at least having the opportunity, and I would find it hard to imagine it was as bad as you are portraying. Why have the program and give them their chances only to make it impossible for them as you are making it sound.

          As to Max, I think he has shown plenty such that once he has the necessary WCC car he will be quite formidable, and it is disingenuous of you to base it on his ‘occasional wins’ when you know perfectly well the lay of the land with the state of his car (and everyone’s) when compared to what LH/Mercedes has enjoyed. The fact that Max has been able to do what he has so far bodes extremely well for his future, and you may want to deny that but you won’t find a single person inside F1 that would share you pessimism towards him.

          With LH likely to finish his career at Mercedes there is no other higher prospect for the future amongst the paddock than MV, and there’s a reason for that.

          1. @robbie
            It worked well for RB as long as they had enough promising talents to fill their seats in F1 (2000s and early to mid 2010s) and there were lots and lots of it. But as one after another left their program, they ran out of drivers. That’s why they re-hired the likes of Kvyat, Hartley and Albon, which were dropped previously.
            Don’t get me wrong, RB did an amazing job bringing talented drivers into F1. But at the same time, they couldn’t guarantee all of them a seat at RB, which was obvious from the very beginning and thus also lost a lot of talented drivers.

            I don’t question Max’s capabilities as a driver, absolutely not. But where I see the issue is that he hasn’t been in a championship fight since his F3 campaign in 2014 and hasn’t won a title since the 2013 World KZ championship (karting). He doesn’t have the experience what’s it like to be in a championship fight in F1, where you have to deliver every weekend and not just occasionally. Will he be mentally stable enough to cope with the pressure? Time will tell.

          2. @srga91 Fair enough. Still say Max has what it takes without question. Will he be able to cope mentally with a WCC car and what that will afford him? 100% imho. It will only make life easier for him than it has been so far.

    3. That’s the negative approach… just consider for a moment how many young drivers got a shot at proving themselves in F1 thanks to RedBull and Marko. Yes, many failed, but at least they got a chance —with only twenty seats available in the first place!— and we’re not talking billionaire sons having been bought a seat by their dad. Yes, Marko is your crazy old neighbour at times, but he does give young guns a take it or leave chance. I like him.

    4. Cristiano Ferreira
      31st March 2021, 8:39

      RB program is a successful one.

      We have Ricciardo, Vettel, Verstappen, Gasly, Tsunoda, Sainz. 6 drivers out of 20 and most of them are good drivers and have at least achieved a podium or a victory in F1. Which program do you think is currently better than the Red Bull one?

  7. I’m a fan. Go ☀️shine.

  8. RedBull’s new Golden Boy!

  9. He passed 3 world champions during the race , except Lewis Hamilton , and one of them multiple times.

  10. I wonder if his comment is directed at Honda as a way of saying stay in F1 and make Tsuonda a champion.

  11. Dave (@davewillisporter)
    30th March 2021, 18:34

    I watched Tsunoda’s F2 season. He was a rookie that really stuck it to the top 2, who were both 2nd year drivers. Second in poles so very fast and had tire management down to an art. If he had a second year like the others he would have won easily. If he raced them all in their first year he would have beaten Mick and Callum. Button also remarked that he watched him in Japan in F4 and Tsunoda blew away the field. Once that guy gets fully up to speed I don’t think Gasly is going to be able to live with him.

    1. Red Bull now has 4 quite good drivers. Only one of them not a race winner.

      They make Ferrari/Mercedes junior squad look pedestrian.

      Well not Russel obviouslly, he would get a win in that Mercedes, but so would half the grid.

      Tsunoda just has raw speed, like Leclerc, Verstappen showed in their early F1 races.

      And Alpha Tauri is a seriuslly good junior team. It is not like Haas, where drivers go to age or Williams, where they get blasted by supreme Russel.

      I predict atleast one podium for Tsunoda.

  12. Just from watching a few Tsunoda races on F2, I gathered that Yuki is an exceptional talent and will shine above many,
    even above MV. He probably won’t have time to beat LH as Ham will probably retire in one or two years.

    I expect him to finish above Gasly this year as far as podiums and points are concerned. In the WCC, I predict he will finish no lower than 6th this year.

  13. Yeah very exciting rookie. I especially like his attitude of not giving a damn of what people think about him. Sense of humour too. Seems a Red Bull seat is a real possibility. Maybe Honda is secretly regretting their pull-out decision now they could be winning with a Japanese driver.

  14. Can we stop talking about his height? Every other article has some quip about how small he his. We get it.

    Reply moderated
  15. Gasly is a good benchmark for him. Beat Gasly this year and he will be a star.

  16. The 20-year-old scored two points by finishing ninth on his debut last weekend, the best result for a Japanese newcomer since 2009.

    This is obvious @dieterrencken and @keithcollantine … There’s been no other Japanese rookie since 2009!

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