Yuki Tsunoda achieved his best Formula 1 result with fourth place in Abu Dhabi – and thought a podium might even have been on the cards.
The Japanese rookie experienced a challenging first season, much more so than many pundits had predicted for he had arrived at AlphaTauri with a big reputation.
But after a highly encouraging pre-season test and F1 race debut, both in Bahrain, things went downhill and after a series of crashes, Tsunoda’s potential came under question.
His stay with the team was extended to 2022, however, and the 21-year-old gave a big illustration of why the faith is being kept in him when he came home P4 in the season’s finale at Yas Marina – just ahead of his highly-regarded team-mate, Pierre Gasly.
Tsunoda had Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes behind him and he even thought that highest ever F1 placing – his previous best had been sixth in Hungary – could have become a podium, which would have meant him joining Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton rather than Carlos Sainz. The one-lap shootout at the end after the Safety Car period offered that opportunity.
Nice way to end up this season pic.twitter.com/V7qJRL1x2F
— 角田裕毅/Yuki Tsunoda (@yukitsunoda07) December 13, 2021
“I’m so happy,” Tsunoda told Formula1.com. “I think overall the pace [in Abu Dhabi] was really good, also the race pace. I didn’t expect that good, to be honest.
“In the end, I also managed to pass Bottas. I made a bit of a mistake on the straight before Turn 9. Maybe I could have passed also Sainz – maybe this is the next step. But anyway, it was a good way to finish the year.
“The confidence comes back from a long journey. In the end, I managed to get the best result of the year. Just happy.”
Like Gasly, Tsunoda has been affected this year by AlphaTauri’s regular inability to reproduce their impressive one-lap pace over the full duration of a grand prix.
Abu Dhabi was an exception though, both drivers improving significantly on their starting positions, rounding off an excellent day for engine supplier Honda as they bowed out of F1 with Verstappen’s title triumph in a dramatic showdown with Hamilton.
On that subject, Tsunoda said: “It’s incredible. I was of course supporting Max, but also Lewis had looked really strong the last three races. I thought it would be a tough battle, but I think he (Verstappen) deserved it properly.
“Also, I think it was good for Honda – they are leaving this season and it’s a good way to finish, that Honda can celebrate in their last year.”
AlphaTauri the real stars of Sunday
While the focus was on Max vs Lewis, the two Alpha boys snuck their way to P4 and P5.