Motor racing-Tsunoda counting on Suzuka experience to bring strong home result


Formula One F1 - Japanese Grand Prix - Suzuka Circuit, Suzuka, Japan - October 6, 2022 AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix REUTERS/Issei Kato

SUZUKA, Japan (Reuters) - Yuki Tsunoda won the last time he raced at Suzuka and, while the AlphaTauri driver can rule out a repeat on his first Formula One visit, his experience of the venue should help deliver a strong result for his fans at this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, the 22-year-old said he had driven more than 10,000 laps around the sweeping 5.8km track over the course of his junior career.

However, despite having worked out the secrets to a quick lap around a track considered by many of his peers to be a test of their abilities, hustling a Formula One car along its undulating sweeps is a whole new challenge.

"I drove a Formula Four, I think it was four years ago I was driving here and the last time in Suzuka I won here – so it’s good memories," said Tsunoda, a graduate of the Suzuka Racing School run by former Japanese racer Satoru Nakajima.

"I was driving here since 2016 and I drove here more than 10,000 laps or whatever. So I’ve learned a lot of tricks but, at the same time, like I said, it's a lot different when I drive a Formula One."

Tsunoda made his Formula One debut last year but his home race has not been on the calendar for the last two seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regarded as a classic, the event is notable for the enthusiasm of the Japanese fans, who dress up in F1-themed costumes and remain at the track well into the night, hours after the race action wraps up.

They have not had a home hero to cheer since Kamui Kobayashi in 2014. He was also the last Japanese racer to stand on a Formula One podium, also at Suzuka, with the crowd breaking out into loud chants of "Kamui! Kamui!"

Tsunoda, whose first taste of F1 at Suzuka came in 2011 when Sebastian Vettel - sitting alongside him in the news conference on Thursday - clinched his second title, knows first hand how passionate the Japanese fans are.

"Just four years ago I was one of the spectators watching these guys you know?" said Tsunoda, who has scored points in three races this year.

"And now I'm driving in front of them, Japanese fans, so, yeah, it’s just really hard to imagine but definitely is a cool thing. It feels very supportive and gives me extra energy for that."

(Reporting by Abhishek Takle; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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