A key F1 area Tsunoda feels there’s “a lot more room to improve” to match Hamilton and Verstappen

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There are just five races remaining in the 2023 season. For Yuki Tsunoda, he’s coming to the end of his third campaign in Formula 1 and at AlphaTauri.

The Japanese driver has impressed many this year. At the start of the season, the AT03 was a car that did not have fundamental raw speed and was the slowest package at some events.

However, the 23-year-old delivered some eye-catching results, finishing P10 or P11 in the first five races of the year.

After a difficult 2021 and a much-improved 2022, Tsunoda was pleased with his first half of 2023.

“I would say I was pretty happy with the first half of it consistency-wise, especially with the difficult situation and because of the difficult performance from the car.

“I was still able to perform around there. At least they can feel there’s a big of a chance.

“The main thing is able to extract performance from the car, so at least they know exactly how the performance is, what is the limitation from the car and what we had to improve. I was pretty happy with it.”

Speaking ahead of the Qatar Grand Prix — where AlphaTauri ultimately struggled a lot for race pace — Tsunoda explained how the feedback given by Liam Lawson, Daniel Ricciardo, Nyck de Vries and himself has been vital to their recent progress.

“We’re able to develop the car quite a lot and now we’re much more comfortable to be in the top 10 than the first half.

“Without our feedback, obviously including Nyck and Daniel, we wouldn’t have been able to develop like this.”

Another topic that was discussed with the Japanese star was tyre management.

Although he is pleased with the gains he has made since his rookie season in 2021, Tsunoda is aware there’s still a long way to go to match the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.

Tyre management was once Hamilton’s big weakness — he struggled to adapt to the Pirelli tyres in 2011 that came with massive degradation. The seven-time World Champion has turned that into a massive strength over the last decade and become a complete driver.

It’s impossible to forget the tyre management masterclass Verstappen delivered on his Red Bull debut to hold off Kimi Räikkönen and take his maiden F1 win at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix on a two-stop strategy, with Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo failing to catch them despite going on the three-stop route.

“Obviously there’s always room to improve and I’m still working on it. I’m not feeling 100% yet. I’ll probably feel like I’ve never improved 100%.

“But happy with the step I made. I kind of know how to perform well in each race.

“I know I need more. Compared to Lewis or Max, there is still a lot more room to improve.”

Photo credit: Red Bull Content Pool

It’s a continuous learning curve for Tsunoda. He wants to continue chipping away at it as that way he can understand how he’s doing it.

“For now I’m happy with this step-by-step process. I’m not expecting to go two or three steps bigger and lose the kind of control of why I made this big step. Each step I know why I made this step.

“With a contract I’ve got now [for 2024], gradually build up and keep doing it like this.”