Four years ago Yuki Tsunoda was watching the Japanese Grand Prix from the stands – now giant pictures of his face welcome him to the Suzuka circuit as he prepares to drive in Sunday’s race.
Tsunoda is in his second season in Formula One with Alpha Tauri and will make his long-awaited Japanese Grand Prix debut when the race returns from a three-year absence because of the pandemic.
The 22-year-old says he feels no pressure despite three huge pictures of his face adorning the grandstand.
Instead he is looking forward to the “extra energy” he says the home fans will bring him.
“It’s just hard to imagine I’m driving there because four years ago I was one of the spectators watching these guys here, and now I’m driving in front of the Japanese fans,” Tsunoda, who has already agreed to stay with Alpha Tauri next season, said Thursday.
“I didn’t expect the huge pictures at the grandstand. It feels really supportive and gives me extra energy.”
Tsunoda said he has been mobbed on his return to Japan, with fans welcoming him at the airport and waiting outside his hotel.
He said he is looking forward to experiencing the Suzuka circuit in a more powerful car, having previously raced there in Formula Four.
“The last time I drove here at Suzuka I won, so it’s a good memory,” said Tsunoda, the first Japanese driver in Formula One since Kamui Kobayashi in 2014.
“It’s a lot different driving Formula One so I need a good build-up. Still, I think it’s one of the best tracks in my experience.”
Tsunoda came fourth in last year’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix for his best finish.
His best result this season was a seventh-place finish at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix but he has failed to complete a race four times.
He crashed out on his 36th lap at last week’s Singapore Grand Prix and he said he still has “a lot to learn” before the end of the season.
“For sure, the kind of mistakes I did in Singapore have to be reduced and a lot of things like penalties, those things are unnecessary,” he said.
“Those things I definitely have to improve but at the same time the pace with one lap I’m quite happy with and I’ve had progress so far.”