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Formula 1

What Tsunoda thinks he’s doing wrong in his tough F1 start

by Edd Straw
3 min read

Yuki Tsunoda’s crash on his first lap on qualifying for the French Grand Prix was the latest setback in his rollercoaster Formula 1 rookie season, but the 21-year-old AlphaTauri driver has a clear idea of how to cut out the errors.

It was the second time Tsunoda had crashed on his first qualifying lap this season, with the first instance occurring at Imola.

He also crashed on his final Q3 lap in Azerbaijan, meaning he has caused qualifying to be red-flagged three times in his seven races.

“I try to make a crazy lap on the first lap, which is almost impossible” :: Yuki Tsunoda

Although Tsunoda accepted after Imola that he needed to curb his attacking urges in qualifying, particularly when it comes to Q1 given the AlphaTauri comfortably has the pace to advance, he suggests that the problem lies in being “a bit tight”.

“We talked a little but he was not angry,” said Tsunoda of team principal Franz Tost’s reaction to the crash.

“We talked together, we tried to find a reason why consistently I tend to push a bit too much in the first lap in qualifying.

“I think I’m putting too much effort in my body, so I feel a bit tight. I try to push from the beginning, I try to make a crazy lap on the first lap, which is almost impossible.

“Also, we changed the balance from free practice to qualifying and that makes quite a lot of difference.”

Tsunoda’s comment about the change in balance supports his view that he’s being too aggressive on the first lap rather than getting a feel for the car in varying conditions.

His Ricard shunt was the consequence of being a little too aggressive on the kerb at the apex of Turn 1, which unsettled the car and led to the spin.

Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri crash Imola 2021

At Imola, the error was carrying too much speed into Variante Alta, which resulted in him spinning into the barrier at the exit of the second part of the corner.

His Baku crash was the result of, in his own words, braking “way too late” for Turn 3. If anything, that’s an understatement. As Daniel Ricciardo, who crashed at the same corner earlier in the session, joked in a pre-French GP press conference with Tsunoda: “I thought I came in hot, but Yuki came in really hot”.

Tsunoda’s race performances have often been compromised by his qualifying struggles, having been eliminated in Q1 four times. Although he drove well to come through to ninth in Bahrain, having briefly run as low as 17th, his only other points finish was his seventh place in Baku.

At Paul Ricard, Tsunoda had to start in the pits after a gearbox change that was forced by his accident. He finished 13th, having climbed to 15th on the first lap, which was encouraging given Tsunoda has also pointed to being more aggressive on the opening lap as an area for improvement.

He finished 13th after being passed by Williams driver George Russell, who had made his pitstop to switch to hards a lap later, while struggling for grip.

Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri French Grand Prix Paul Ricard 2021

“The first lap was quite good, I managed to make up three or four positions,” said Tsunoda.

“After that, I was stuck behind an Alfa Romeo on a different compound and it was difficult to overtake them, I already felt a lot of degradation.

“So we tried to undercut on the hard tyre and push from the beginning, but we used quite a lot in the beginning and the tyre was completely gone.”

Giving himself so much extra work to do at the beginning of races is only going to exacerbate such problems. Time for Tsunoda to show he’s not just identified what’s going wrong on Saturdays, but can solve it.

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