Yuki Tsunoda earned himself a first Q3 appearance since May’s Monaco Grand Prix after qualifying for tomorrow’s Japanese Grand Prix in ninth in front of home support on a weekend his AlphaTauri future was also confirmed.
Earlier on Saturday, it was confirmed by the team that Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri contract had been extended until the end of the 2024 season. Daniel Ricciardo will also remain with the team next season, with the Australian favoured over rookie and Red Bull reserve Liam Lawson.
Hours later, Tsunoda charged to a first Q3 appearance in almost four months after being boosted by home support and a wealth of upgrades introduced to the AT04 in Singapore.
The 23-year-old exceeded all expectations to feature on the fifth row of the grid which he will share with the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso.
“Definitely long time [coming],” Tsunoda said of his return to the top-ten shootout. “I think the car was performing well since probably Monza so the crew deserves that and also the team did a fantastic job to create a good car today as it was not easy.
“FP2 and FP3 we were struggling and to be honest I didn’t expect this but at the same time the amount of support I got from fans today was crazy, so thank you to all of them.
“It’s incredibly special to get through to Q3 at your home Grand Prix. It was the first time in front of the Japanese fans, and the amount of support I felt in my final runs was great. I’ve never felt that kind of support from spectators.”
Tsunoda will be hoping to capitalise on his top ten starting position as he seeks a first points finish since the summer break. The Japanese driver’s last F1 points came in Belgium where he recorded a P10 finish.
Recent rounds in Italy and Singapore have seen Tsunoda complete less than one full racing lap after he broke down on the formation lap in Monza and retired on Lap 1 last weekend following contact with Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.
“I think the updates seem to be working and I think the amount of hard work that the people have done, aerodynamics people have done, was a great job.
“Singapore was working well, here we also got Q3, seems like all range of speed corners it’s working well, so less worried compared to the first half of the season, and this is the time we start to collect the points and we aim for the P7 in the team championship.”
Tsunoda will not be the only AlphaTauri driver hunting points on Sunday as Liam Lawson, still filling in for the injured Ricciardo, lines up P11 after missing out on a consecutive Q3 appearance by less than half-a-tenth of a second.
“It’s a bit frustrating not making it to Q3 by such a small margin. With the information we had after Free Practice, we weren’t expecting to be super strong, so we went quite aggressive with tyres in Q1 and only had one new set of the soft compound tyres left for Q2,” Lawson said in response to his qualifying showing.
Before stepping up to a race seat with AlphaTauri, the New Zealander had been competing in the Japanese Super Formula championship, meaning he returns to a familiar circuit which could well contribute to forward progress on Sunday.
“Compared to Singapore and places like that it’s definitely an advantage for me. But it’s still been a big build-up, a lot to learn; it’s so, so different the car to drive. It’s definitely helped us I think and hopefully tomorrow we can have a strong race as well,” Lawson added.