‘Tsunoda has popped out the other side of tough rookie year’

AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda in the paddock at the Spanish Grand Prix. Barcelona, May 2022.

AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda in the paddock at the Spanish Grand Prix. Barcelona, May 2022.

AlphaTauri technical director Jody Egginton believes Yuki Tsunoda has weathered a tough rookie year and is becoming a stronger racer.

Tsunoda is midway through his second season with the AlphaTauri team, and is having a much stronger 2022 relative to team-mate Pierre Gasly, despite the AT03 being less competitive than last year’s offering.

With Gasly on 16 points after 11 races, Tsunoda has scored 11 points – his best result so far has been a seventh place at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

While Tsunoda recently attracted fresh ire from Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko after a collision with Gasly at Silverstone, Egginton has praised the young Japanese driver for turning around his driving after a calamitous rookie year.

Tsunoda earned a reputation for being crash-prone during 2021, but the AlphaTauri technical director said the driver has come on in leaps and bounds since last year.

“He’s adapting to Formula 1 and, even though we’ve had a regulation change, the way he was driving the car evolved, even through last year,” Egginton said on the Beyond the Grid podcast.

“At the start of the year (2021), he had some good results out of the box. Everyone was like ‘Oh wow, Yuki is great’. But, like a lot of rookies when you do the analysis, they start well, and then they go through a bit of a purple patch.

“And he did, he went through a point where his confidence dipped, and he was questioning himself and questioning what he wanted to do with the car. And then he popped out the other side of that and, towards the end of last year, I think he’d understood how he wanted the car set up.

“His driving also evolved to give him a wider range of setups he could digest, and he’s just carried that form on really. I think the Yuki we’ve got now is easier to set a car for him than it was mid-season last year.”

Yuki Tsunoda answers a question. Miami, May 2022.
AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda answers a question during the Miami Grand Prix weekend. Miami, May 2022.

Going into further detail about how the Tsunoda of mid-2022 differs to this time last year, Egginton said: “[We had] a combination [of him] not really being sure what he wanted, and the shunts and mistakes affecting his confidence – he went through that patch, but he’s come out the other side of that.

“He’s much more able to say now what he wants from the car, and I think that’s a good thing.

“That’s a milestone with any rookie, I’ve seen with drivers before where they go through patches where they’ve got the talent, but the races are not going their way, or they’re making silly mistakes, or they’re suffering from reliability fusses, which means they’re missing mileage.

“I think his path navigating that has not been different from a number of other rookies, but the expectations are higher. We’re a solid midfield team, and we’re meant to deliver. It’s a lot harder for him than it would be if we were pounding round at the back end, he could quietly get on with the business of becoming a better driver.”

Tsunoda has also gained a reputation for being a hothead over team radio, with his use of choice language a source of amusement for viewers as much as it is a source of frustration for his team.

But Egginton said the situation has also improved from last year, enabling a more proactive approach to developing the car around their young driver.

“Honestly, we do talk to him about that, and he does take it on board,” Egginton explained.

“But, in the heat of the moment, he’s got some choice language which I imagine he didn’t pick up at language school!

“The engineers deal with it, and they’re very polite and nice back to him. We often remind him that it’s probably not the most descriptive way to improve the car, but it’s part of being him.

“He’s showing a character. Maybe people don’t like what they hear, but we typically know what he means. And then, when we’ve debriefed at the end of the race, everything’s calmed down, it’s more ‘we understand what you’re saying, but let’s try and find a better way to communicate it’.”

But, while the rough edges are being smoothened out as Tsunoda gets more experience under his belt, Egginton warned that the journey is far from complete.

“He’s still a relatively new driver and he’s very early in his career,” he said.

“He’s also had to adapt to a new car in the second year of his career and that’s not to be underestimated for any of these young drivers.

“Some of the guys who’ve come in earlier have been dealing with evolutions of car, he’s dealt with a revolution of car. He’s on a good learning curve. It’s not easy, the car’s not as competitive as last year’s yet, so it’s harder to showcase for him.

“But he’s pushing Pierre harder now, and he’s developing nicely. He’s on a good path. We’re not there yet, and he’s not the finished product. He’d say that himself – he is developing well, but he’s got a long way to go.

“And we’ve got a long way to go to develop the car. So far, so good. We are as we are and we’ll keep going. And we’re confident we’ll keep developing.”