Around 200 years ago, Katsushika Hokusai painted the “Great Wave off Kanagawa”, one of the most famous Japanese paintings of all time, which, in the West, is seen as a symbol of the country’s culture. And Kanagawa just happens to be Yuki Tsunoda’s home town. He certainly showed what he is made of right from his debut race a few days ago.
After finishing ninth in Bahrain, Yuki has already acquired star status in his homeland, dominating all the newspaper front pages. That result also means that he is the only Japanese driver to finish in the points on his Formula 1 debut. He therefore joins an exclusive club of 64 others, including some who made their F1 debut with our team: Sebastian Bourdais (2008,) Daniil Kvyat (2014) and Carlos Sainz (2015). On race-day in Bahrain, he was 20 years, 10 months and 17 days old, making him the youngest ever Japanese driver to take part in a Formula 1 race, as well as the youngest to score points.
Yuki lined up 13th on the Sakhir grid and after a cautious start he delivered a mature and brave drive. Thanks to a great turn of speed, mixed with determination, he fought his way up to tenth before dealing with far more experienced Lance Stroll in the Aston Martin on the very last lap to claim ninth place.
Yuki knew he was racing with the hopes and expectations of millions of Japanese fans behind him, especially as this was the first time in seven years that one of his countrymen had been on the F1 grid. In Formula 1’s long history, there have only been 24 Japanese drivers entered, although some never even got to race, as large entry lists in the 80s and 90s meant that the slowest qualifiers never made it to the grid. Prior to Tsunoda, the last Japanese driver was Kamui Kobayashi, who took part in 75 Grands Prix from 2009 to 2014, scoring a total of 125 points, including one podium finish in his home at Suzuka in 2012.
Only two other Japanese made it to the podium: Aguri Suzuki in 1990 in a Lola Lamborghini, also at Suzuka and Takuma Sato with the BAR Honda in 2004 in the United States. In fact, Yuki chose to run the number 22 as a tribute to Sato, who is very popular in Japan because of his exploits in Formula 1, where he is still the only Japanese to have led a Grand Prix for 2 laps, and for his 2017 and 2020 wins in the legendary Indianapolis 500 Miles.
And now it’s Yuki’s turn as the first ever Formula 1 driver to be born in the 21st century. In Bahrain he fought hard for his first championship points and we are sure there will be plenty more to come!