The ‘big, big emphasis’ placed on ‘overwhelmed’ Yuki Tsunoda in decisive F1 season

Thomas Maher
AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda listening to instructions. Barcelona, Spain June 2023.

Yuki Tsunoda listening to instructions.

Yuki Tsunoda’s performance coach has revealed the areas the Japanese driver is having to focus his efforts on improving this year.

Tsunoda inherited the position of AlphaTauri team leader this season, following the departure of the older and wiser Pierre Gasly for pastures new at Alpine.

The Japanese driver’s reputation has improved immeasurably since his tumultuous rookie season in 2021 and, while likable and popular, his hot-headed temper has landed him in trouble with the team on occasion.

Michael Italiano: There’s a big focus on Yuki Tsunoda’s mindset

Tsunoda is reaching a critical stage in his career, with his contract up for renewal by Red Bull. Now in his third year, the point at which team boss Franz Tost believes a driver has realised most of their potential, Tsunoda is facing a stern challenge from the incoming Daniel Ricciardo and has to contend with the rise of Red Bull junior Liam Lawson waiting in the wings.

Michael Italiano, Tsunoda’s performance coach after years of working with Ricciardo, has shared some insight into the work he’s doing with the AlphaTauri driver this season.

“Technically, lights out means my responsibilities are finished,” he told the Dirty Air podcast.

“But I hold a little notepad and I do take notes during the race, [on things] like how Yuki deals with any type of adversity in the race – him attacking or him defending.

“Or if anything went wrong in the race, how is he reacting to that? His communication on the radio, what’s his communication like with his engineers? Is he swearing?”

Asked what the response to that adversity may be, and whether Tsunoda’s exercise and fitness regime changes as a result of that, Italiano explained he’s there to help more with changing Tsunoda’s mindset into being calmer than he would be without external help.

“It’s more so his mindset,” Italiano said.

“So with Yuki, there’s been a big, big emphasis on his mindset this year – just like staying calm in the car and accepting adversity.

“So one thing that I noticed with Yuki is, when something goes wrong, he can’t… he doesn’t accept it straightaway.

“Instead, he opts for frustration and swearing, almost like he’s in denial of ‘Why always me?’ rather than going ‘OK, cool, these are the cards I’ve been dealt. Now let’s get on with it’.”

It’s in the unpredictable nature of Formula 1 that Italiano said it’s very important for drivers to learn to have that mental calmness.

“Formula 1 is one of those sports where there are so many parameters that can go wrong that are out of your control,” he said.

“Whether you get hit, tyre puncture, strategy – all out of your control as a driver, so you can’t let that bowl yourself up.

“You just have to focus on what you can control and just accept it. That’s one thing that I take note of.”

Italiano posed it in a way that the podcast presenters, both comedians, might experience the same issue.

“If you’re saying a bad joke, and then you don’t get the response you’re trying to move on,” he said.

“But, in the back of your mind, you’re still thinking about how bad that joke was!

“It’s the same if you make a mistake as a sportsman. If you make a mistake, sometimes Yuki gets quite overwhelmed with that mistake that he made. Like in Turn 3 in qualifying, where maybe he lost two-tenths. Rather than just getting on with it, it’s like ‘Agh’, and he’s just holding on to it.” recommends

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Michael Italiano on working against Daniel Ricciardo

Having spent years working with close friend Daniel Ricciardo, Italiano is now the unusual position of working with Ricciardo’s teammate as the Australian has secured a return to Formula 1 with AlphaTauri.

Given his relationship with the two drivers, who are both possible contenders for a future Red Bull seat, Italiano was asked whether he can use his knowledge of both to play mind games given that Tsunoda is out to beat Ricciardo.

“With AlphaTauri, I think Yuki has a lot to prove,” he said.

“Obviously, it’s his third year of Formula 1. So he’s still trying to progress in his career and prove to everyone that he’s quick. So coming up against Daniel is like a perfect opportunity for him, I guess you could say because it’s a pretty strong reference, right?

“I guess any Red Bull junior wants to progress in that way. They want to, hopefully, one day get promoted to Red Bull because Red Bull have shown over various years how strong they are.

“Obviously, everyone wants to be in a strong car. Daniel has come out and said that’s obviously his intention. He wants to get back into Red Bull.

“So it made sense for him to want the other AlphaTauri seat, so he’s got plenty to prove as well.

“No, I’m not going to use any tricks or anything like that. The truth is I’ve kept it very basic with Yuki, and it’s worked so far from my side. We’ll focus on the process. Yuki is well aware of what we’re focusing on. You just don’t want to overcomplicate things and start trying to play mind games, no matter who your teammate is. For me, it’s energy that doesn’t have to go in that direction.”

While Italiano spoke about his role with Tsunoda and the duties expected of him, he was also asked some pretty unusual questions, such as which F1 driver is likely to be “the best in the sack” and, if stranded on a desert island, which driver would he like to eat first…

After saying Tsunoda, in what the hosts laughed at and branded a “terrible career move”, Italiano explained his reasoning.

“It kind of doesn’t make sense because he is the smallest so you’re getting the least amount of food,” he said.

Yeah, but the amount of high-quality Japanese food that guy eats. I feel like the tenderness of his muscle tissue would be beautiful to eat…”

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