AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda has explained the issue that ended his Dutch Grand Prix prematurely and resulted in triggering a Virtual Safety Car.
Tsunoda retired from the Dutch Grand Prix on lap 43 after pulling over to stop on the track on two successive laps.
The Japanese driver pulled over near the exit of the Hugenholtz corner on lap 42, shouting he suspected the front left tyre was loose. After switching his car off, Tsunoda was told to turn his car back on and return to the pits.
Coming back in, he had his seatbelts retightened as the team changed his tyres and was sent back out on track. However, just as he exited the pit lane, he radioed in that the problem had not gone away. As he was in the pit exit, his engineer told him to pull over and stop in a safe place. This resulted in the Virtual Safety Car being deployed.
The deployment of the VSC had direct repercussions on the race up front as it allowed race leader Max Verstappen to pit from the lead – the Red Bull driver was set to come out behind the Mercedes at his second stop as the gap was around 16 seconds and shrinking at the time of the interruption.
The FIA investigated the pit lane incident involving Tsunoda, with the team summoned before the stewards under the grounds of an alleged breach of the FIA Sporting Regulations, Article 34.14: “Cars must not be released from a garage or pit stop position in way that could endanger pit lane personnel or another driver.”
The investigation has resulted in a reprimand for Tsunoda, for driving on track with loosened seatbelts.
Planet F1 have reviewed the team radio between AlphaTauri and Yuki Tsunoda during these two laps, which is transcribed below.
Lap 42: Tsunoda radios in with a problem
Coming in for his pit stop and switch to the hard tyre compound, Tsunoda appears to notice a problem as he drives down the narrow pit exit lane to rejoin the track.
Tsunoda: “Ohhh! Tyre! Tyre’s not fitted!”
Engineer: “Copy. Slow down. Russell 5.9. Stop on track in a safe place.”
T: “So confirm tyre’s not fitted?”
E: “Albon behind Bottas, Zhou is coming.”
T: (shouting): “Confirm tyre’s not fitted?!”
E: “Stop on track. Stop on track, now. Stop on track.”
Tsunoda pulls over and switches off his engine. The yellow flags are shown in the area, but Race Control have not deployed either the Safety Car or the VSC by the time Tsunoda is told to resume.
T: “Tyre’s not fitted?”
E: “Is the tyre OK, yes?”
T: “Why stopping? So retire, yeah? Retire.”
E: “Go again. Go again. Start, start again. Tyres are OK. Start again, tyres are OK.”
Engine starts up and Tsunoda drives slowly back on track and carefully negotiates his way back to the pits.
E: “Gasly coming behind. Blue flag for Gasly, then blue flag for Leclerc. He’s around five, then Hamilton 10. Blue flag. Blue flag. Hamilton six. Blue flag. Russell four. Blue flag. Albon 10 after Russell. Then Bottas, Zhou, Vettel. Box box, we change tyre.”
Tsunoda is fitted with fresh tyres while his mechanics tend to his seatbelts, as he presumably loosened them after thinking his race was over. Driving back out onto the track, he is driving down the pit exit again when he notices the problem again.
T: “Strange at the rear, something strange. Diff is broken, I think.”
E: “Stop, stop. Stop in a safe place. Go out. Go out the pit exit and stop in a safe place. Vettel blue flag behind. Watch your mirrors. Blue flag behind. Watch your mirrors. Watch your mirrors again. And stop in a safe place, Yuki.”
Tsunoda pulls over and stops his car at the side of the track. This time, Race Control opt for a Virtual Safety Car.
Yuki Tsunoda explains the timeline
Having retired from the race with the unconfirmed problem, Tsunoda explained the situation from his perspective as he spoke to media afterwards.
“Well, I thought there was an issue,” he told Sky F1.
“The engineers couldn’t really see in the data, so I came back again. We fitted a different set of tyres too and after that pit-stop, the engineer saw the issue clearly in the data – that’s why we stopped.”
Asked whether his tyre was loose, as he had suspected, he said: “Tyres were not the issue in the end.”
As for whether he had ended up doing a lap on track with loose seatbelts, Tsunoda denied they had been fully unclasped: “The seatbelt was fine, it was just retightened again [when I came in].”
AlphaTauri are yet to confirm the nature of the problem, with Chief Engineer Claudio Balestri saying: “After the pit-stop, he reported something strange at the rear of the car, we called him in again to change the tyres and immediately after we had a car failure. This is currently under investigation within the team.”
Ted Kravitz doesn’t see upside of potential Red Bull tactic
Given Red Bull benefited directly from the problems for Tsunoda, Ted Kravitz on Sky F1 addressed the conspiracy theory of AlphaTauri attempting to aid Red Bull via a well-timed Safety Car or VSC intervention – exactly what came to pass as a result of Tsunoda breaking down on track.
“It was a win largely made by the sister team,” Kravitz said on his Dutch GP notebook.
“I’m not gonna get into these conspiracy theories, that it was somehow AlphaTauri that caused the [Virtual] Safety Car by leaving Tsunoda out on the track when they knew he had a problem so Mercedes couldn’t carry through their strategy.
“There’s no upside, apart from making sure Max Verstappen has a nice day and wins his home race. They have already ‘won’ the championship.
“Tsunoda thought he was out. He felt something wrong, he thought the tyre was off. That’s a big no-no, you should always stop if your tyre is loose. The stewards don’t like it if you carry on because the tyre might come off. He thought ‘I’m gonna get out, loosen these belts’.
“They said no, the tyre is definitely on. Don’t know how they can tell that on telemetry, but they can do. During the lap back, they found it was the differential failure.
“Then they thought ‘OK, well, maybe it’s differential’. How would they have known that, and how would they have sent them out then? Maybe they were still figuring that out. But when he got back, they were trying to figure this out.
“That seems to be what they’re saying, even though it doesn’t quite make sense. When he came into the pit-stop, the first thing they had to do was to do his seatbelts back up. And then the second thing they had to do was send him out again on different tyres. And then, on that lap, they found out the differential was broken.”