Yuki Tsunoda’s favourite word during his rookie Formula 1 season has so far been ‘unacceptable’.
He has had ample opportunities to use it, given how much has gone wrong, meaning he has been celebrated more for his excitable, expletive-laden team radio messages than his results so far in 2021. Yet it all started so well, with eye-catching performances in pre-season testing.
From underachieving in qualifying on his debut in Bahrain when capable of a top-10 position, to crashing on Saturday at Imola, to suggesting his car was different from team-mate Pierre Gasly’s in Spain, to hitting the wall while attempting to keep it clean during the second practice session on his first taste of Monaco’s streets, the 21-year-old Japanese has much to regret. And he’s nothing if not frank about his problems, having learned the hard way how tough F1 can be.
“To be honest, I’m finding it more difficult than I expected, especially from testing,” he says. “Maybe I just thought F1 was too easy before the racing started. As soon as I got into the races, especially from Imola, things started not going well.
“But I accept these mistakes and switch my mind to improving things, always learning. I’m having a difficult time, but this is F1. To become a better driver, this is a really important time for me.”
Such honesty is rare but admirable. Given how accomplished Tsunoda looked in testing after showing his talent with race-winning seasons in Formula 3 and Formula 2, his rude awakening is a surprise; but to hear him be open about his shortcomings rather than make excuses or take refuge in the positives – of which there are plenty – is encouraging.
Helmut Marko, Red Bull’s chief motorsport advisor with a fearsome reputation for pulling no punches when it comes to his young charges, has criticised Tsunoda’s lack of discipline. This has led to a plan to relocate him from the UK to Italy to be closer to Scuderia AlphaTauri’s base in Faenza – just around the corner from Imola.