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Nine things you need to know about Japan’s Yuki Tsunoda

With the Japanese Grand Prix this Sunday, Japanese F1 driver Yuki Tsunoda will be excited to drive in his home country.

The Red Bull-affiliated driver has driven for the junior team, the newly-named Visa CashApp RB, ever since his debut for them in 2021.

Tsunoda has had many team-mates throughout his time in F1 so far such as Pierre Gasly, Nyck De Vries and Daniel Ricciardo.

With F1 being the highest level of motorsport, Tsunoda has had to prove his worth to Red Bull and be measured against his various team-mates.

Tsunoda’s personality has also made him popular with fans as he is funny with his blunt and random humour.

Here, Planet Sport’s Ayla Vaughan picks out nine things you need to know about the latest Japanese driver on the F1 grid.

The F1 driver

Tsunoda is one of the 20 drivers in the world who is currently on the F1 grid. At the moment, he is 11th in the drivers’ championship with six points to his name. 

He has achieved 67 points so far in his F1 career with 69 Grands Prix entered. His highest race finish was fourth, in the controversial 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Australian driver Ricciardo is Tsunoda’s current team-mate, and they got off to a rocky start at the first race of the year in Bahrain where Tsunoda didn’t want to swap positions with Ricciardo. 

In the end, they managed to switch places but it was seen as too late as Ricciardo was unable to pass the driver ahead.

Despite this first racing disagreement, Tsunoda has beaten Ricciardo in Saudi Arabia and Australia, where he got the first points for the team in his team-mate’s home race. 

Since Tsunoda has been at the team the longest he will be eager to beat his older and more experienced team-mate, as all racing drivers are competitive even if they’re not fighting for wins. 

Tsunoda’s years in Japanese Formula 4 

In 2016, Tsunoda became a member of the Honda Formula Dream Project and made his single-seater debut in the F4 Japanese Championship for just one race in Suzuka. 

He claimed a podium with a second place finish in the first race and finished fourth in the second race. This was an impressive debut at a circuit he would become very familiar with.

In 2017, Tsunoda raced in Japanese F4 and the regional East series of the JAF F4 Japanese Championship. Tsunoda won the title of the regional championship, and proceeded to finish third in the national championship. 

Tsunoda consistently finished in the points with one non points finish and one retirement. 

He achieved three wins and six podiums in a total of 14 races, an impressive first full year in single-seater racing.

Victory came in 2018 for Tsunoda in Japanese F4, claiming the title at the final race, beating his rival by just 14 points. 

Tsunoda had a very successful season, amassing seven wins and 11 podiums in a total of 14 races. 

In races where he didn’t finish on the podium, one was a retirement and two were non points finishes in Autopolis, the penultimate track of the championship. 

This meant he would move to racing in Europe in 2019 as he hoped to become an F1 driver.

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The move to Formula 3

Tsunoda competed in F3 in 2019, where he finished ninth in the drivers’ championship. He had a mixed season - to be expected of a rookie racing in Europe for the first time. 

Tsunoda got his first podium with a second place finish in Spa in the second race. 

Arguably, he had his best weekend in Monza with a third place finish in the first race and a win in the second race. 

Tsunoda only raced in F3 for one year before stepping up to F2, showing that Red Bull and Honda were confident in his driving abilities (considering that he scored all the points in the team he was driving for). 

Despite not being competitive in the championship, he raced alongside many familiar drivers. These include Red Bull reserve driver Liam Lawson, 2022 F2 champion Felipe Drugovich and F1 driver for Williams Logan Sargeant. 

The step up to Formula 2

In 2020, Tsunoda joined the much more competitive Carlin team to finish third in the drivers’ championship. However, a pattern began to emerge as his results varied with little consistency. 

Despite competing in his longest championship ever with 24 races, Tsunoda managed to challenge the 2020 F2 champion, Mick Schumacher, finishing just 15 points behind the German driver. 

Tsunoda achieved six podiums and three wins in a challenging season, where many drivers received wins in 24 rounds. The COVID-19 pandemic affected this championship, as it did for many levels of motorsport meaning races were held in fewer countries. 

For example, Austria, the UK, Italy and Bahrain held four races as most races were held in Europe (except for Bahrain).

Nonetheless, Tsunoda once again showed Red Bull and Honda that he deserves to drive in F1. 

These two powerful relationships greatly assisted the Japanese driver to further his career in a short amount of time. 

Tsunoda also won two awards in 2020, the FIA Rookie of the Year and the Anthoine Hubert Award (the highest-placing rookie F2 driver). 

Tsunoda would again race alongside many familiar drivers as the junior series were full of talent. These include former F1 driver for Haas Nikita Mazepin and F1 driver for Sauber Zhou Guanyu. 

The Red Bull and Honda junior

Tsunoda has had the backing of Red Bull and Honda during his time racing in the junior categories. Having these two supporters is key considering Red Bull’s engine is supplied by Honda in F1 (until 2026 when they will change to Ford). 

Tsunoda has found himself the figure responsible for the maintenance of this great racing relationship as he is the middle man between the Austrian sports drink company and the Japanese car manufacturers. 

Helmut Marko, head of Red Bull's driver development programme, oversaw Tsunoda in F2 and F3 once he joined their junior team. 

He was another key player in Tsunoda’s career as Red Bull had been having a tumultuous time in F1. 

After the departure of Ricciardo from Red Bull in 2018, the aftermath was chaos with driver swaps between Gasly and Alex Albon (with the seat ultimately going to Sergio Perez in 2021). Therefore, partnering Tsunoda with Gasly in AlphaTauri would hopefully provide some stability, as well as strengthening the Honda partnership.

Tsunoda’s debut in F1

Tsunoda had only driven an F1 car a couple of times before his eventual debut, with his first experience coming in a November 2020 test session at Imola. 

Having the winter of 2020 to learn the differences and challenges of driving a F1 car meant Tsunoda had little time to become familiar with this new machinery. Nonetheless in his first race at Bahrain in 2021, he finished ninth - scoring points on debut.

In his debut season, Tsunoda finished 14th in the drivers’ championship with his team-mate Gasly finishing in ninth. 

Tsunoda only managed to score 36 points, meaning he often didn’t finish in the points. Despite this, AlphaTauri finished sixth in the constructors’ championship, performing well as an upper midfield team.

Tsunoda no doubt learned and improved greatly over his rookie year at the highest level of motorsport. However, the Japanese driver had multiple crashes in qualifying sessions such as in Azerbaijan, Imola and France. 

Later on in the season, though, Tsunoda regularly qualified in the top 10, enabling him to score what points he could. Gasly became a great friend of his, and when the Frenchman left to Alpine for the 2023 season, they remained close.

The foodie

One of Tsunoda’s biggest passions is food, both eating and cooking it. In one video when F1 drivers were asked what their dream was, they all answered to be a F1 world champion, except for Tsunoda who dreamed of opening a restaurant. 

Tsunoda regularly talks about the dishes he has tried around the world when travelling for F1, but his favourite is Japanese food which he will be excited to eat this race weekend in his home country.

Tsunoda can regularly be seen eating food in the F1 paddock, whether it’s croissants in France or stroopwafel in the Netherlands. 

F1 drivers often have strict diets, but Tsunoda doesn’t mind indulging once in a while since he is the shortest and lightest F1 driver on the grid. 

In a Formula 1 article when asked to describe himself in three words he answered “Ohh, okay, describe myself… I love food, I love activities and… Ohh, this is difficult… Sing well!” 

In the same article he was later asked if he could go on holiday with a current driver, who would it be and why, and he answered “Hmm. I want to try Checo! He knows a lot of beautiful Mexican food and I want to explore…Recently I’m quite into Mexican food as well so I want him to take me to a lot of nice restaurants”. 

It’s clear to see food is constantly on his mind and that is enjoying exploring different cuisines.

The fashionista

Another interest of the Japanese driver is fashion. AlphaTauri is also a clothing brand, so Tsunoda has modelled their extensive range since his F1 debut. 

The company was founded in 2016 as an extension of Red Bull into the fashion industry. He regularly wears their clothing on F1 race weekends as part of his obligations to the Red Bull brand. 

Most F1 teams have a clothing brand sponsor, so Tsunoda also wears Hugo Boss since they are a sponsor for Visa CashApp RB. 

Tsunoda is arguably one of the most stylish drivers on the grid which may have inspired him to release his own clothes. 

Tsunoda also has a merchandise shop, where he sells clothes, bags and accessories with his racing number 22 and a maple leaf often being featured (which he has on his F1 helmet). 

Random and fun facts about Tsunoda

Tsunoda has his own website and YouTube channel, similar  to many of the younger F1 drivers who are active on social media. 

Despite not having released too many videos, fans still get a behind the scenes look of the 23-year-old outside of the racing driver. 

He has also had many funny moments on Netflix’s Drive to Survive, such as what it’s like to live in Milton Keynes as a Red Bull junior and his reluctant attitude to exercise in season 3.

Jason Statham is one of Tsunoda’s favourite actors and he was surprised by him at last year’s finale in Abu Dhabi where he finished eighth in the race (as well as getting Driver of the Day). 

Michael Italiano, Tsunoda’s trainer, told Statham that Tsunoda had changed his iPhone Airdrop name to 'Jason Statham's son', showing how much of a super fan he is, according to the Mirror

Statham laughed and said "Good choice. I have a responsibility to take care of you now. If I ever need to," according to the same article

Tsunoda was overwhelmed by the surprise and said "Holy Moly. My heart is so... Feeling good. You've made my day already,” and "thanks very much. I want to tell you, I love your films," according to the same article.

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