Japan's Tsunoda 'excited' to start F1 season after testing sensation

·2-min read
Sparks fly as AlphaTauri's Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda sets the second fastest time overall at Sakhir

Japan's Yuki Tsunoda said he was "excited" to get his rookie Formula One campaign underway after out-performing Lewis Hamilton and a clutch of other world champions at pre-season testing on Sunday.

The 20-year-old clocked the second-best time of the three-day session at Sakhir where the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix takes place on March 28.

Tsunoda set his best time of 1min 29.053sec from 91 laps in his AlphaTauri on Sunday, beaten only by Red Bull's Max Verstappen's 1:28.960.

"We've had a few small teething problems but that's exactly what you'd expect from testing," said Tsunoda.

"We're here to work everything out so we have the best possible package available to us come race day.

"I'll continue working hard over the next few weeks and I'm excited for it to start."

Tsunoda ended up being quicker than seven-time world champion Hamilton who was fifth fastest overall in the all-conquering Mercedes.

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel was a lowly 17th on Sunday while fellow title winners Kimi Raikkonen (fourth on Sunday) and two-time champion Fernando Alonso (ninth) also finished behind Tsunoda.

Even AlphaTauri teammate Pierre Gasly, who won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza last season, could only manage 12th fastest Sunday.

"Jumping out of the car in P2 today is a great feeling – of course you can't get too ahead of yourself, as it's only testing, but it's great to finish the three days on a high," added Tsunoda who racked up 185 laps over the three days.

"I've learnt so much over the last few days and collected crucial data for the team that we'll now go back and analyse ahead of the first race.

"I think for me it's great that we're returning here so soon for the start of the season as I've managed to complete a lot of running here now and understand the track well."

Tsunoda, who replaced Daniil Kvyat in the AlphaTauri team, is the first Japanese driver to compete in Formula One since Kamui Kobayashi in 2014.

The diminutive Tsunoda -- he is 1.59 metres (5ft 3in) tall -- was named FIA rookie of the year in December after finishing third in his debut season with British team Carlin in the Formula 2 championship.

AlphaTauri finished seventh in last season's constructors' championship and Gasly tenth in the drivers' title race.

dj/td