Yuki Tsunoda is set to become the 17th Toyota Racing Series graduate to make a Formula 1 appearance with confirmation the young Japanese race will test for AlphaTauri at this year’s young drivers test in Abu Dhabi.
Tsunoda has had an exceptional rookie FIA Formula 2 season this year with Carlin where he sits third in the championship with race wins at Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps.
AlphaTauri team boss Franz Tost said at the recent Belgian Grand Prix Tsunoda has excelled in all areas this season and his performances have caught the watchful eye of the F1 paddock.
“I’m not only impressed with his driving in F2, I was impressed with him last year in F3 as well and the years before,” said Tost.
“He is a high-skilled driver and he has all the ingredients together to become a successful F1 driver.
“For sure, he will test for us in Abu Dhabi at the young driver test.”
Tsunoda’s big break in F2 has followed a turbulent Castrol TRS campaign where he was effortlessly trumped by his M2 Competition teammates, claiming only one victory at Highlands Motorsport Park in the reverse-grid race.
However, his demonstration of outright performance and equanimity amid the tightly contested F2 grid for a rookie is of high quality considering his Carlin teammate Jehan Daruvala has only scored points three times this season.
Tost even went as far as hinting at a potential contract deal with AlphaTauri for next season given both Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat are yet to ink an agreement with the team post the 2020 season.
With the team aimed at being the junior outfit to the senior Red Bull squad, it can seem irrational for AlphaTauri to carry on its services with two drivers who both have had failed stints with the top team.
Should Tsunoda make his way onto the grid next year he will join year, he’ll join fellow TRS graduates Lando Norris, Lance Stroll, Nicolas Latifi and Kvyat if the Russian is retained.
However, to seal a drive on the F1 grid for 2021, Tsunoda must meet the 40 Super Licence points prerequisite. Should the 20-year-old fall outside the top three in the F2 standings this year, he will still make the cut given the added Super Licence points the TRS received for 2021 which has attracted a an increase of domestic and international interest.
“The track record speaks for itself really,” said TRS category manager Nico Caillol.
“Every year we see an exceptional group of young drivers take to the Kiwi tracks and every year many of them go on to demonstrate their potential in New Zealand and in other series.
“An increasing number are on the F1 radar and there is a definite view that you have to be at a very high level to win in TRS. The very best of tomorrow’s racing talent race in TRS at some stage early in their careers. It’s a genuine benchmark of global talent.”
Despite the on-going challenges of the global Covid 19 pandemic, Caillol reiterated Toyota GAZOO Racing New Zealand’s commitment to bringing an improved 2021 championship which will also see the roll-out of a more develop FT60 chassis.
“We’re here to stay, we will be racing in 2021 and we’ll be releasing full details of the programme and the budget to prospective competitors soon,” he added.
“There’s been a lot of interest from drivers wanting to come down and race in New Zealand, from young Kiwi drivers and a few very interesting enquiries from more established drivers.
“We’ll be watching how Yuki goes in Abu Dhabi with real interest and looking forward to the 18th graduate of the series to drive an F1 car. Who knows who that might be?”
A five-round 2021 TRS championship calendar was unveiled earlier in the year with the opening round scheduled for January 22-24.
Main Image: Bruce Jenkins