Akin to the 2019 Formula One season, the 2021 season provides the grid with three rookies: Mick Schumacher, Nikita Mazepin, and Yuki Tsunoda. While Schumacher and Mazepin are racing for the Haas F1 Team, Tsunoda, as a member of the Red Bull junior program, secured the AlphaTauri seat alongside Pierre Gasly.
Written by Aryan Desai, Edited by Tanishka Vashee
During preseason testing, both Schumacher and Mazepin performed adequately as the Haas car itself was not expected to be incredibly fast. Tsunoda, on the other hand, surpassed all expectations as he finished with the second fastest time, only losing out to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. However, this speed might not be representative of the rookie’s performance during the season.
Yuki Tsunoda (left) and Pierre Gasly (Right), the two AlphaTauri drivers for the 2021 Formula One season (Photo Credit: AlphaTauri)
AlphaTauri, positioned as a Red Bull “B team”, is designed to be a midfield competitor, but on the last day of preseason testing, AlphaTauri seemed as if they could be competing for wins in the 2021 season. Yuki Tsunoda, who finished 3rd place in the 2020 Formula 2 season, continuously set purple sectors throughout the evening session of testing. The Japanese rookie held the fastest time for most of the session until Verstappen edged him out by 0.093 seconds. Considering the stature of the AlphaTauri team, this relatively small gap in lap time is quite astonishing since Verstappen is an incredibly seasoned driver with a car that was positioned as the second fastest car on the grid in 2020.
Unfortunately, AlphaTauri fans shouldn’t expect the team to take a top 3 position in the Constructors Championship for 2021 as Tsunoda utilized a specific testing loophole involving DRS that aided his speed. Those who watched Tsunoda’s laps closely might have noticed that he activated DRS much earlier than what would typically be allowed during qualifying and races. During testing, there are no regulations as to when DRS can be used, so as far as legality is concerned, this move is completely sanctioned. Nonetheless, it does help to explain the somewhat “excessive” speed of the AlphaTauri. Should Tsunoda have used DRS only where permitted during a real qualifying session, the 0.093 second time difference between him and Verstappen would most likely increase.
Tsunoda during a testing lap, clearly having his DRS open before the DRS section which starts at the Blue Aramco sign (Photo Credit: Twitter)
Regardless of the utilization of this DRS “trick”, Tsunoda’ performance should still be commended. Commentators David Croft and Martin Brundle complimented Tsunoda’s approach through turns and his consistency lap after lap. Lando Norris, when asked about Tsunoda’s testing speed, stated, “He’s a good driver!. I don’t think there’s any shock with it,”. Although he might not secure a race win in his rookie year, fans should expect a very close battle between Gasly and Tsunoda this season.
The young driver has a lot of potential, and given the right chance to showcase his skills, Yuki Tsunoda may soon be the next whizzkid in Formula One.
To read more about AlphaTauri’s 2021 car click here