Tsunoda: Car updates and tyre warm-up “really key” to P8 result in qualifying

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Yuki Tsunoda brushed off a difficult FP3 to qualify a fantastic P8 for Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Friday had started badly for the 22-year-old as he hit the wall at turn 3 in practice, damaging his right rear tyre in the process.

However, he turned it around in qualifying to make Q3 and continue his strong form in 2023 to date. The AlphaTauri man said getting the tyres up to their operating temperature was the key to success.

“Yeah, it’s a really tricky track, the tyres were tricky especially,” said the Japanese driver. “As you can see, most of the drivers really struggled under braking, especially the first sector.

“The front tyre is not really warm, it’s not ready enough. We do as much as we can to warm up the tyre, but we struggle a lot. The tyre warm-up was really key.”

Historically this track has been kind to the team in recent times. Pierre Gasly bagged a podium in 2021, and he backed that up last year with a P5 finish.

Tsunoda was set to join him in the points until a rear wing issue forced him to box in the closing stages.

Although they did expect to be stronger in Baku compared to the first three events, the Japanese pilot said upgrades helped their performance.

“I think based on the last three years, this Azerbaijan is quite a suitable track compared to other tracks for AlphaTauri,” he stated.

“We knew we could expect better performance than the last three races, but also we brought updates to focus more towards straight-line speed.

“We expected in slow speed corners that we won’t struggle much, but obviously the main straight will be tough, so we brought those pieces and it worked well.

“I think overall we managed to get a car to be in the Q3, but still I think it was tough, but definitely it was a much better performance compared to the last three races.”

AlphaTauri brought a total six updates to Azerbaijan this weekend. They have been mainly focused on gaining more performance on the straights.

Tsunoda was pleased with what they achieved on Friday as he felt an immediate step.

“Straight away in FP1, the first [time on the] main straight I felt really fast,” said Tsunoda. “This car is much faster than the other three rounds, the straight-line speed was really fast.

“So definitely we made a step.”

Photo credit: Red Bull Content Pool

It was a painful qualifying session for Nyck de Vries as he crashed out in Q1. Time will tell if something related to the brake-by- wire system on his AT03 caused the accident.

The former Formula E and Formula 2 champion was understandably disappointed when speaking after getting back to the paddock. He had shown very strong form in the only practice session as he logged the 6th fastest time.

“It’s certainly very disappointing,” he said. “The car and the package looks really competitive this weekend. We had a good practice session, so we obviously hope to be able to capitalise on that.

“Unfortunately, it ended very prematurely in Q1, and therefore we weren’t able to capitalise on the performance we looked to have.

On the accident itself, de Vries wanted to go and analyse with his team to find out exactly what went on.

“Honestly, I don’t exactly know what happened,” he continued. “I think the issues pre-session were obvious, but I don’t like to make conclusions without having seen what actually happened.

“We’ll look at it tonight and analyse, and tomorrow is a new day, and we’ll try and capitalise on that performance.

“I don’t want to suspect anything. I just want to go back and see what happened. I waited one hour or more outside the track in a car, so before making conclusions, I think I want to see what happened.”

Looking at the positives for the Dutchman, AlphaTauri look much more competitive this weekend. He gets the opportunity to qualify and race much closer to the front on sprint Saturday tomorrow.

“The car looks very competitive this weekend, and I think if we fairly look at our first three weekends, we weren’t in the same position as we are this weekend,” stated de Vries.

“So it’s very disappointing when it looks like this is a weekend we could be outperforming ourselves and then something like this happens.

“I think FP1 was very encouraging, and things felt good. I think the performance was not, let’s say, misleading, because Yuki confirmed that in qualifying.”

Photo credit: Red Bull Content Pool