Yuki Tsunoda says he “feels more like a leader” within the AlphaTauri Formula 1 team after enjoying a strong start to the 2023 season.
With Pierre Gasly, Tsunoda’s team-mate for his opening two years in the sport, departing the Red Bull stable to switch to Alpine at the end of last year, the Japanese driver has been partnered with Nyck de Vries for 2023.
Despite de Vries being the older of the two AlphaTauri representatives by five years, the Dutchman is currently tackling his rookie campaign in F1 while Tsunoda is encountering his third year at the top.
Amid a challenging opening to the season for AlphaTauri, Tsunoda has provided a huge positive with his on-track resurgence, and the 23-year-old admits he now feels confident to take on the mantle of team leader that Gasly previously occupied within the Faenza outfit.
“Yes, definitely, Tsunoda replied via Motorsport Italy when asked if he feels like he’s taken on the responsibility of a bigger leadership role this year. “And I think I have to be, especially since it’s my third year and because we’ve lost Pierre, [they] want someone to trust.
“And I have to be one of those people who can give a new impetus, especially now that we are having some performance difficulties.”
“So I want to at least be as comfortable as possible regarding the performance on the track, whatever car they give Yuki, at least you know he will give 100%.”
“And I want to feel like this. I don’t want the team to worry about the rider’s performance, which I don’t think happened when Pierre was there, especially in 2021. I feel I have more leadership. I’m starting to feel more like a leader.”
Following two inconsistent seasons riddled with unforced errors, Tsunoda has stepped up to be one of the most impressive occupants on the current grid in the nascent stages of the 2023 season.
The Japanese driver has delivered in difficult circumstances to score points on two occasions with a tricky car while displaying impressive consistency to not yet register a race finish below 11th place.
Having also beaten new team-mate de Vries in every race and out-qualified him four times out of five, Tsunoda asserts that starting to maximise the machinery at his disposal on a more consistent basis was one of his primary aims coming into this year.
“Well, first of all, especially in this third year, if I have to continue to do what I was doing last season, if I’m not doing as well as I want or should do, I know I can do it,” he expressed.
“In every race I did last year I had the feeling that I could have done more, even in qualifying I tried these things, and you know, especially in my third year, anything can happen and if you keep going like this, you lose your place. So I was able to think about how much Formula 1 means to me, how much motorsport means to me.”
Tsunoda’s encouraging upturn in form at the beginning of this season has seen outgoing AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost previously declare his current incumbent will likely be ready for a promotion to the senior Red Bull side within two years.
Although he reckons he would be ready for the step up if called upon, Tsunoda has downplayed the talk of his current boss by underlining his current focus is set on maintaining his current momentum.
“To be honest, I’m really focusing on what we have now in the AlphaTauri,” he said. “I think there’s still a lot of things to work on.
“Obviously, I’m happy to hear from him, especially positive things, I guess. I mean, being a Formula 1 driver, you have to be ready, always, when you have the call from a top team. We have to be ready. I think, in the end, everyone’s ready, just how much we can extract from yourself, every race.
“So, I’m feeling ready, but at the same time, first of all, I need to improve myself more. And I know the current clear target for this year as a team, and also for myself. So, continue this momentum, like I have the last three races, probably even more.
“And first of all, I just want to make him happy at the end of the season. To say thank you to him and, at the same time, definitely we want to finish in a positive way definitely even compared last year.”