Tsunoda realises potential with fourth in finale after season behind Gasly

2021 team mate battles: Gasly vs Tsunoda

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The season-long balance of power between the AlphaTauri drivers was turned on its head at the final race of the season.

Yuki Tsunoda, one of three rookies in the field but the only one paired with a more experienced driver, had a tough time up against Pierre Gasly for much of the season. Although Tsunoda scored on his debut, over the following races Gasly decisively held the upper hand.

Gaps of half a second between the pair in qualifying were common, providing Tsunoda set a time, which he failed to at Imola and Paul Ricard due to crashes. But there were flashes of promises too, shown by Tsunoda’s occasional incursions into Q3.

Qualifying on average six places behind his team mate meant Tsunoda rarely had the opportunity to finish ahead of him on-track. After Bahrain, where Gasly was delayed by early damage, he only did so twice again all year, at Silverstone and Yas Marina.

Gasly was immediately more comfortable in a car which was a development of the machine he won last year’s Italian Grand Prix with, and regularly took it much closer to the limit of its capabilities. He bounced back from his Bahrain disappointment with six consecutive finishes including a podium appearance in Baku. While that result came about partly due to others hitting trouble, fourth places at Zandvoort and Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez were fully merited.

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri, Baku City Circuit, 2021
Gasly rebuffed Ferrari pair for Baku podium
Gasly’s eight top-six finishes meant his season-ending tally stood in stark contrast to Tsunoda’s contribution. AlphaTauri must look at their 13-point deficit to Alpine in the constructors championship, which separated them from a place in the top half of the field at the end of the year, and reflect that’s the cost of bringing new talent in at a time when testing opportunities are so limited. Tsunoda, like his fellow newcomers – had just one-and-a-half days’ running before the 2021 season began.

But with former Red Bull driver Alexander Albon aiding his development, there was clear evidence of progress on Tsunoda’s side, and he delivered at the final round of the year.

While Gasly had a scruffy Q2 with an error on one lap and traffic on another, Tsunoda sailed on into the final 10. He took advantage of the controversial late restart to grab fourth place from Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes, no less, ending the season with his best result of the year, and exhibiting the potential AlphaTauri recognised him from his excellent Formula 2 campaign last year. That bodes well for his and the team’s chances in 2022.

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Pierre Gasly vs Yuki Tsunoda: Key stats

Pierre Gasly vs Yuki Tsunoda: Who finished ahead at each round


Pierre Gasly vs Yuki Tsunoda: Qualifying gap

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Times based on the last qualifying round at each race weekend in which both drivers set a time. Negative indicates Pierre Gasly was faster, positive means Yuki Tsunoda was faster

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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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10 comments on “Tsunoda realises potential with fourth in finale after season behind Gasly”

  1. Yuki was great for the unknown which means he only good at 1st race, new circuit, new circuit layout. One more lap in Abu Dhabi he could be in podium.

  2. Alpha Tauri had a seriously good car this year. Hopefully Yuki can continue to make progress next year. Maybe there’s a good F1 driver in him, still. There is also the danger of a totally new car upsetting him, damaging his convidence. A reset can go either way.

  3. Yuki obviously had some teathing problems and his transfer to Italy seemed to have cooled his vulcano character down.
    He is taking things more seriously and as result begins to perform.

  4. It’s not really a surprise that his better results are at tracks he’s the most familiar with. He was pretty good in Bahrain at the start of the season and at the end in Abu Dhabi. He has one full season under his belt now and will be much better prepared for all the tracks next year.

  5. Yuki won’t be in F1 for long, too unreliable, doesn’t own up to mistakes, lower end of a solid midfield driver. Mick Schumacher drive much better and consistently than Yuki, and I think Latiffi did much better than him too.

    1. I disagree just about everywhere here. Yuki came in to very little fanfare (and plenty of “here comes another Inoue/Japanese pay driver”) up against a very solid driver on a great trajectory in Gasly. He quickly showed he can find the speed in the car and was candid in the open season about coming out the gates too quick in Q and crashing. It’s plain to see he worked on this as his Q performances became middling for quite a few races until the back end of the season where we began to see him build the speed up again.

      In races he has been remarkably solid for a rookie and showed more plainly than Gasly that the AT was a car with distinct strengths and weaknesses – I think they really struggled managing tyres at a lot of tracks, something that will always work against a rookie. He has shown he can mount a stout defense against a superior car and he can also make moves and overtake, provided Lance Stroll is looking in his mirrors.

      MSC on the other hand has come in to a massive fanfare and huge anticipation and is heavily backed – his seat being safer than Yuki’s with Honda on the way out goes without saying IMO. It’s hard to see what Mick proved up against the lamest of ducks in Mazepin but he showed he can bang wheel rims together and is capable of putting a decent lap in. However in such a dog of a car in a throwaway season it’s hard to hand any kind of accolade into that garage.

      Against stiffer competition, doing much more serious/important racing (for points), Tsunoda is clearly rookie of the year any way I can cut it. A legitimate talent who deserves backing and certainly one of the most promising Japanese drivers to enter the sport.

      1. I like Yuki too. However your response is rather overly glowing when compared to his actual performance on track. I certainly agree he has shown potential and sincerely hope there is an upward trajectory next year, but I am certainly unable to find many real world examples of his driving to suggest the season has been anything other than disappointing this year.

        1. The thing that brings me back to backing Yuki every time I consider it is the ~ minute and a half of pre season testing rookies got this year in a brutal calendar. I think we were always in for a lot of rookie crashes this year – but fair comment, I do consider myself an optimistic observer.

    2. I agree just about everywhere

  6. Was good to see him get 4th in Abu Dhabi but I think Yuki lacks confidence required to succeed in F1. Hope he gets himself a sports psychologist as I think next year he’s one bad result behind another run of poor results.

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