Within five years, Yuki Tsunoda aims to be in the top cluster of drivers in Formula 1. In his first season racing outside of Japan, the Red Bull and Honda-backed teenager is already showing signs of a very strong future
Breaking every possible Formula 1 record is the ultimate ambition of Red Bull junior Yuki Tsunoda, but he’s rationalised that into three very distinct aims and three carefully selected timeframes.
In 2019, his minimum target is to finish fifth in F1 support FIA F3 Championship, which he contests with Jenzer Motorsport, and third in Euroformula Open, where he races with Motopark. It’s foreseeable that he could achieve both.
If that proves attainable, then his next target is to be top three in both series. The highest target of winning two titles is mathematically impossible, as schedule clashes between the series means Tsunoda is already out of EF Open title contention.
For a rookie to European and F3 racing, Tsunoda is doing a brilliant job; his biggest struggle currently being foreign languages. For the last two years he has raced in Formula 4 in Japan under Honda’s blessing, becoming the first ever Honda-powered champion in the FIA-rules series in 2018, and was a regional and national champion in the open-chassis JAF series using Toda power in 2017.
Although JAF F4 – which has produced Super Formula and Formula 2 race winners – has complex aero, it is still a world away from the driving requirements of F3, especially the new-for-2019 FIA series. To ensure that transition would be trouble free, and to achieve his season’s aims, Tsunoda came up with a three-point plan for the year: one, to master the tyres and the cars; two, to improve his car feedback; and three, improve his fitness and achieve a good life balance, stress-free.
He hooked up with Hintsa Performance, renowned for its work in F1, to pursue those points and it seems to have worked.
“Yuki has a good feeling for the car, and he has a good feeling for the tyres,” Andreas Jenzer told Formula Scout during the FIA F3 round at Silverstone.
“Now we just need to try to solve out the qualifying. Obviously here, and at some of the other tracks, he has never done a lap around; it is quite impressive what he is doing.”
Tsunoda qualified 26th out of 30 at Silverstone, and charged through to 14th in the Saturday race. He gained another seven spots to pick up points on Sunday, and is currently 12th in the standings with a haul of 17. Next time out at the Hungaroring he qualified a much-stronger ninth and achieved his first double points haul.
“We are very impressed, particularly in the races,” says Jenzer. “I think in qualifying the problem is he wants to do pole, but coming from F4 with very little European track knowledge [means] he still makes too many mistakes in qualifying. But it’s better to push and learn there, and in the races he shows really great potential.”
Jenzer enjoys working around the inexperience of Tsunoda and the rest of his FIA F3 line-up, and the fact his team has been trusted with a Red Bull junior again. In EF Open, Tsunoda is not only at a team heavy with Red Bull history, but has a rivalry with team-mate and stablemate Liam Lawson.
In the 10 races they’ve competed in, with both missing the latest round due to FIA F3 duties, Tsunoda has on average been outscored by one point per race. They currently lie third and fourth in the standings, both having won races.
They haven’t always impressed Motopark team principal Timo Rumpfkeil though, having twice crashed while fighting for the lead. On both occasions it’s been Lawson who’s been dealt with most of the blame, but Tsunoda the one scoring less points.
“For Yuki, everything is new, so you have a bigger fluctuation in the results,” Rumpfkeil explains.
“Spa-Francorchamps was a mega event for him because he didn’t know the track and to be challenging for the win with only two free practices, which really means you only do 12 laps or so to learn somewhere like Spa is a very good one. He’s a very good Japanese talent, very very high level and he will make his way. The exercise for him to do Euroformula Open is to learn extra tracks, get extra mileage and he’s doing well with that.”
“German and Japanese people seem to get on quite well, so that’s good. I am enjoying having good talents and it’s great that Honda has the trust to bring the drivers here to develop them.”
Unsurprisingly, Tsunoda is the only of Motopark’s regular quartet yet to take a pole, and although he misses the next round at Silverstone, his FIA F3 experience could bring this fast learner a remarkable EF Open rookie title.
As for the future, Tsunoda has given himself three to five years to be a F2 title contender as an absolute minimum, with a Red Bull F1 seat at the more ambitious end of his plans. Even if his backer Honda ends its engine supply of Red Bull’s two F1 teams, Tsunoda is showing a rapid amount of learning that could put him in reach of a F1 title fight within a decade regardless.
Red Bull junior boss Dr Helmut Marko is known to be regarding reigning Super Formula champion Naoki Yamamoto for more than just a free practice appearance for Toro Rosso, and were the 31-year-old to be a recurring presence in the 2020 F1 paddock, “it would be ideal for Tsunoda and Yamamoto to grow together”.
Addtional reporting by Peter Allen and Rachel Hillman.
D/O/B May 11, 2000
2019: currently 4th in EF Open (1 win, 2 fastest laps), currently 12th in FIA F3 Championship
2018: Japanese F4 champion (7 wins, 8 poles, 4 fastest laps)
2017: JAF Japanese F4 Grand champion (7 wins, 7 poles, 7 fastest laps), 3rd in Japanese F4 (3 wins, 4 poles, 1 fastest lap)
2016: 16th in Japanese F4
2016: 4th in All-Japan Kart Championship – KF
2015: 2nd in All-Japan Kart Championship – FS-125
2014: 11th in All-Japan Kart Championship – FS-125
2013: East-Japan Kart champion – FS-125, Twin Ring Motegi Kart Series champion – X30
2012: 3rd in All-Japan Kart Championship – FP-Jr
2011: Shin-Tokyo NIC Cup champion – Yamaha Cadets Open, Haruna Cup champion – Yamaha Cadets Open, 5th in All-Japan Kart Championship – FP-Jr Cadets
2010: Shin-Tokyo NIC Cup champion – Yamaha Cadets Open, 2nd in Haruna Cup – Yamaha Cadets Open, 6th in All-Japan Kart Championship – FP-Jr Cadets