Yuki Tsunoda hopes to follow golfer Hideki Matsuyama’s example in what could be a huge year for Japanese sport.
Earlier this month, Matsuyama became the first Japanese male golfer to win a Major when he triumphed in the Masters tournament at Augusta.
Since that victory, Tsunoda has received plenty of encouragement from fans in his home country who want to see him win a grand prix for AlphaTauri – something which, eventually, he looks as though he may have the potential to do in the right circumstances, given the early promise he has shown in his rookie F1 campaign.
Although the novicey errors which even his own team had predicted for this season were in evidence during the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix weekend, Tsunoda collected points on his debut in Bahrain.
It could be a massive sporting year for Japan, with the Olympic Games due to take place in Tokyo, pandemic permitting, followed by the intended return of the grand prix at Suzuka on October 10 – which will be an exciting occasion for Tsunoda in particular.
“Especially after Matsuyama won the Masters golf, I got a lot of letters from Japanese fans saying next it’s your turn, we are waiting for your first win,” Tsunoda told Sky F1.
“I’m just focusing now on my driving, trying to improve and getting as much experience as possible with each race. If I win at Suzuka, that would be really great. I hope I can win in front of all the Japanese fans.”
After Bahrain, where he finished ninth after a series of overtakes on vastly more experienced rivals, Formula 1’s motorsport managing director Ross Brawn described Tsunoda as “the best rookie F1 has had for years” – a big statement considering some of the other younger drivers on the current grid.
“I’m honoured to get those comments, especially from Ross Brawn,” added the 20-year-old.
“After Bahrain I found a lot of space to learn and improve because I had been expecting a higher position before the race. In my Q1 performance, the car was already there and I would have said top six was possible.”
And of the overtakes on the likes of Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, who have seven world titles between them, one in particular stood out for Tsunoda.
“My strongest part is braking,” he added. “If I decided to overtake I just committed and launched it, especially on Fernando.
“The last time I saw him was when I was seven years old and went for the first time to watch Formula 1, so it felt a little bit special to overtake him.”