Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso were just about to enter Formula 1, Jenson Button had already made it to the top drive of Motorsport racing while the likes of Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen were going great guns in 2000, which is when Yuki Tsunoda was born.
Today, twenty three years after, having turned just as many years, Raikkonen is a retired F1 legend, Button long gone, Hakkinen a celebrated icon and Tsunoda is in his third year on the F1 grid.
He’s recognised already as a fine talent, arguably the best from Japan in the post-Kamui Kobayashi era and someone who might well make it to Red Bull someday, which is undoubtedly, the go-to outfit for anyone desirous of being a Formula 1 star.
But when he first arrived here, circa 2021, Yuki Tsunoda did not take long to make an impact.
Which explains perhaps why March 28, 2001 would always matter as a date dear to the Japanese talent.
In just his maiden drive ever in Formula 1, Yuki, then 21, would score a memorable P9 with his Alpha Tauri team; on lap 25 and 27 at the Sakhir-bound Bahrain Grand Prix, Tsunoda overtook Sebastian Vettel and then, Fernando Alonso respectively.
It’s one thing to pass a back marker in a race if you’re in an Alpha Tauri; Yuki had jumped two legit Formula 1 multiple world champions.
Someone who relishes the prospect of wheel-to-wheel racing, it wasn’t hard to see that drive in the way Yuki went about his business.
In his very first season in the top flight of Motorsport, Yuki Tsunoda banked 32 points.
While surely, he may have wanted to do a lot more and go much better, in truth that effort from a young kid who had only just arrived was enough to defeat very popular and promising names on the grid; among them featured Kimi Matias Raikkonen and Robert Kubica.
Make no mistake, Yuki’s debut season saw him beat even George Russell.
One can only speculate endlessly about what might Tsunoda manage if he’s got a car that holds on to its own where it comes to the straight line speed and what might he do with a car that can notch up a few more bursts of pace.
What’s certain, however, and not subjected to the realm of imagination is that Tsunoda sure likes a good challenge on the track and is off from the moment the five red lights turn green.
Surely, he’s had his fair share of struggles particularly during the tricky qualifying sessions on most Saturdays as revealed by the slump of form in 2022.
But even then, Tsunoda was successful in converting lacklustre starts from the qualifying point of view into promising race results on Sunday, particularly if one were to take into consideration some of last year’s results.
For instance, besides the ebullient result at Bahrain, which was the curtain raiser wherein the youngster scored a P8 (thus improving upon his debut season’s drive), the results at Emilia Romagna Grand Prix (Imola) and Spain weren’t laden with massive disappointment.
He would score a P7, and a P10 there, respectively.
It did appear that being very new to the concept of the sprint didn’t dissuade him one bit; Tsunoda notched up a not too disappointing P12 at Imola. Ultimately, his seventh in the race would clearly outperform his more experience Alpha Tauri teammate and good friend Pierre Gasly.
But where the current status of his F1 journey is concerned then it can be said with much clarity that the man who’s clearly got his hands set on the AT04, then it’s Yuki, not De Vries, the latter still grappling with the balance and the oversteering issues, some of which have led to skirmishes on the track.
Rather interestingly, Tsunoda, who’s shown flashes of speed if not manic performances at the back of backbreaking drives in 2023, is the only man in the nearabouts of scoring some points consistently for the midfield side.
Had he managed to break into the top ten at Miami, F1’s most recent Grand Prix, it would’ve meant the third time that the driver would’ve grabbed a tenth place finish for his side.
Yet, that at the behest of his single minded focus and talent, an Alpha Tauri succeeded in defying Lance Stroll in a visibly quicker Aston Martin was some achievement even as it wasn’t captured amongst the leading highlights from Miami.
Tsunoda has managed to scrape through and score a point at the demanding street tracks like Melbourne (Austrian GP) and Baku (Azerbaijan GP), which clearly shows that he’s no mug in an F1 car contesting in tighter venues that doesn’t allow easy overtaking.
But that some of his best moments are yet to transpire and may happen in a far more speedier machine forms the big discussion point of the day.
At 23, with age and fitness on his side and not to forget, the desire to get better, one can’t wait with unbridled excitement as to what might the forthcoming seasons have in store for a lad who does have the promise to be Japan’s greatest export to Formula 1.