RACE DEBRIEF

    Rookie Yuki Tsunoda turned heads on the final day of pre-season testing as he put his AlphaTauri just under a tenth behind leader Max Verstappen’s Red Bull RB16B under the lights at Bahrain – a headline grabbing time for a driver who has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the junior categories to F1.

    The Japanese driver, who was in Formula 4 just three years ago, bolted on the softest (C5) compound tyres late on in the final day of testing and set a string of qualifying runs as conditions cooled and the track got faster on Sunday evening. Though he briefly led the session, Verstappen set the eventual benchmark of 1m28.960s on C4s – just 0.093s faster than Tsunoda.

    READ MORE: Verstappen puts Red Bull on top as pre-season testing comes to an end

    “Especially today was a really, really good day,” said Tsunoda after the session. “Good progress, no issues and I just focused on my driving – that’s what I want to do.”

    With 91 laps under his belt over the course of the day, Tsunoda was relieved that no reliability issues hampered him after he admitted that he was left feeling ‘stressed’ after fuel issues on Friday and then DRS and power unit issues on Saturday.

    DXI14589_20210314112810294.JPG
    Yuki Tsunoda completed 185 laps over the three days – four more than fellow rookie Mick Schumacher

    “These two days we had a little bit [of] bad luck, but today we put it all together and I think the mechanics and Honda did a really, really good job, there was no issue, and I was really comfortable to drive all day for the session. I achieved 91 laps and that was really, really good testing,” he added.

    The 20-year-old said his flying effort on the softest compound was the highlight of his stint in the new AlphaTauri AT02 car.

    READ MORE: 6 Winners and 6 Losers from 2021 F1 pre-season testing

    “Well, I definitely enjoyed C5, the softest tyre, big grip, and I never had experience like that grip,” he said.

    The only blip on his final day of testing was a spin, spectacular recovery – and a near miss with veteran Kimi Raikkonen, which Tsunoda said was his very first introduction with the Finnish driver.

    TESTING DAY 3: Yuki Tsunoda's spectacular spin

    “There was always tailwind today and I hit a strong wind and got a big slap, and yeah, I nearly spun fully,” he said. “I said ‘hello’ to Kimi I think then I came back [onto the track].

    “Glad I said hello to Kimi. We haven’t met yet… but finally I said hello,” joked Tsunoda.

    The AlphaTauri rookie will make his Grand Prix debut at the end of the month as the field returns to Bahrain to kick off this 23-race season.