Dr Helmut Marko is convinced Yuki Tsunoda will become a star in Formula 1, claiming he will “definitely” be Japan’s first World Champion.
Tsunoda did not take long to catch the eye in pre-season testing following his arrival at AlphaTauri fresh off the Formula 2 scene.
He continued to catch the eye over the course of that weekend and also during the Bahrain Grand Prix, in which he registered two points by finishing P9, helped by a brilliant overtake on Lance Stroll on the final lap of the race.
Red Bull advisor Marko, who is also the head of their driver development programme, certainly does not think the excitement surrounding the youngster is misplaced.
Asked by RaceFans whether Tsunoda would become Japan’s first Formula 1 World Champion, he responded: “Definitely.”
Marko added: “He’s smart and, as I said, for 20 years [old], [he is] very mature.
“Soon he will be a new star [in] Formula 1. They all like him. He is a charming, 20-year-old Japanese guy with a sense of humour.”
Tsunoda showed his raw pace during the first qualifying session in Bahrain, finishing P2 behind only Max Verstappen, but could not make it out of Q2 – although Marko put that down to a mistake on the team’s part regarding tyre choice rather than the driver’s.
“I think the team should have given him soft tyres for his very first qualifying, so he under-performed,” said Marko.
“It would have been easier for him because he doesn’t have any routine in qualifying.”
Marko thinks problems with the car also held him back last season in Formula 2 as well, where Tsunoda, who drove for Carlin, finished P3 behind champion and now Haas driver Mick Schumacher.
“Without his technical failures he would have won the championship easy,” affirmed Marko.
“We brought him to Europe. One season in F3, one season in F2, nobody noticed it and bang, in Formula 1.”
At just over five foot, Tsunoda is comfortably the smallest driver on the current grid and that led to a few issues when the team were preparing the AT02 for him.
“159 [centimetres] and 61 kilos, so all designers love him,” joked Marko.
“The pedals was the main thing, we had to bring the pedals forward. The simulator, we still struggle to have the right seat for him.”