Formula One team AlphaTauri has picked Yuki Tsunoda as a driver for the 2021 season, to race alongside current driver Pierre Gasly.
Tsunoda replaces Daniil Kvyat who first joined the Red Bull Racing feeder team in 2014, back when it was still called Toro Rosso. Kvyat was promoted to Red Bull in 2015 but was dropped from the team during the 2016 season. He has been with Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri ever since, apart from the 2018 season when he was a test driver for Ferrari.
Tsunoda, 20, was part of Honda's Formula Dream driver development program and finished third overall in the 2020 Formula 2 Championship, driving for Carlin. He also won the 2018 Formula 4 Japanese Championship and has had some successes in the 2019 Formula 3 Championship.
Tsunoda sampled AlphaTauri's 2020 F1 car during a test held Tuesday at Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina Circuit. AlphaTauri Team Principal Franz Tost said Tsunoda was a fast learner and worked well with the Honda engineers at the team. Honda supplies the power unit for AlphaTauri, as well as Red Bull, but will exit F1 after the 2021 season.
The last time a Japanese driver raced in F1 was when Kamui Kobayashi took part in the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
“I realize that I will be carrying the hopes of a lot of Japanese F1 fans next year and I will be doing my best for them too,” Tsunoda said in a statement.
There will be a lot of changes in the driver lineup next year. Recall, Fernando Alonso is set to return to Renault which will be rebranded Alpine, Sebastian Vettel is set to replace Sergio Perez at Racing Point which will be rebranded Aston Martin, Carlos Sainz is set to replace Vettel at Ferrari, Daniel Ricciardo is set to replace Sainz at McLaren, and Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher are set to replace Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen at Haas.
Red Bull is still yet to confirm if Alexander Albon will drive for the team in 2021, and Mercedes-Benz AMG is also yet to confirm if Lewis Hamilton will drive for its team, though the latter is a given considering Hamilton's consistent performance over the years.
In other F1 driver news, Ferrari announced Tuesday that F2 runner-up and Ferrari Driver Academy racer Callum Ilott will serve as a test driver for its team in 2021.