Yuki Tsunoda’s post-qualifying outburst during this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix earned him no favours with his AlphaTauri team.
If the Japanese rookie is to lift himself out of his current dip, he may need to call on elements he does not have in his personnel possession – particularly calm and experience. This is where his team needs to come in.
The Bahrain Grand Prix probably seems like a long time ago for debutante Yuki Tsunoda. Even though he was only half-satisfied with his race, from 13th on the grid, the AlphaTauri racer pulled off a mature race to come home 9th in a Grand Prix that included overtakes on former world champions Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.
However, the three races since then have brutally exposed a lack of experience, maturity and relative calm for the 20-year-old. A crash during qualifying at the following event at Imola left Tsunoda starting last before a spin in the race itself left him a distant 12th. Thereafter Tsunoda endured a somewhat anonymous event in Portugal that saw him 15th and lapped, while another Q1 exit in Spain was the precursor to a brief Grand Prix in which he retired after six laps due to an electrical failure.
Beyond the season opener, Tsunoda’s more experienced teammate Pierre Gasly has picked up three points finishes so far and despite a Q2 exit in Spain, has been a regular feature in qualifying. While that may not sound like an overly convincing haul of success, given AlphaTauri’s position, it is a relatively solid score for a small Italian team who are regularly outgunned by the leading half of the field.
Occasionally though, such limitations promote frustration with drivers who are keen to push forward, but how one manages such frustrations is often key to unlocking performance, for agitation and spiral thinking behind the wheel only creates problems for a driver.
It is no secret that fans and media tend to eat up overly excitable driver comments over the team radio and in post-session media appearances, Tsunoda’s outbursts will not make friends within AlphaTauri.
Suggesting that the team are effectively producing a different car for Gasly would have raised some ire with team boss Franz Tost. For his credit, Tost will be well aware that these are the psychological machinations of a rookie driver who sees a possible seat with the sister Red Bull team in the lingering background.
Tsunoda is, in a sense, letting events get ahead of him. Not everything comes quickly and easily – it is why Formula One is so often cited as the toughest category in global motorsport and Tsunoda needs to understand this.
Calm and patience is needed, but with a hot-headed rookie, calm and patience often get shoved out of the way in favour of red mist and expletives and this is where AlphaTauri need to work with Tsunoda. Yes, the Japanese rookie appears to be struggling somewhat with the front end washing out, but that is something that can dialled out with constructive feedback between the driver and team, but that matters little if the driver’s headspace is not clear and focussed and that may what is missing.
Formula One may be a punishing sport in many ways, but the people at AlphaTauri are not stupid and the team surrounding Tsunoda should be working with the young man and a sports psychologist or mental coach in an effort to turn negative emotions into actions designed to deliver positive results.
Working with a driver to ensure that they are in tune with the direction of the team and car at their disposal, while also overturning negativity will only help to deliver confidence and, in theory, better results. Both the driver and team still require time to gel, as personalities mix, and relationships are fused.
There is no doubt that Tsunoda is a quick racer, but he will need help from those around him to lift him out of his current dip, but AlphaTauri also need to be patient with him. However, if he continues with the kinds of outburst as heard over recent Grands Prix, he will only make life impossible for himself.