Why Tsunoda wasn’t at fault in Mexico F1 qualifying controversy
Yuki Tsunoda inadvertently found himself the villain in the eyes of many after qualifying for Formula 1’s Mexico City GP.
The AlphaTauri driver was deemed to have ruined the crucial final qualifying laps of both drivers from the sister Red Bull Racing team, and as such had the massed ranks of Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen fans on his case.
But what actually happened in those final moments of qualifying, and was the Japanese driver really at fault?
In fact it was an unusual set of circumstances. While it often happens at other stages of qualifying, it’s rare for a driver to be on a slow in-lap right at the end of Q3, when everyone else is going flat out on what is supposed to be their fastest lap of the weekend.
And that was down to the strategy adopted by the AlphaTauri team. Tsunoda had a back of the grid power unit change penalty, and thus he went into qualifying with two targets – finish ahead of the three other drivers carrying similar penalties and thus claim 17th on the grid, and help his teammate Pierre Gasly with a tow.
As penalties have mounted up in recent races we’ve seen a few similar situations, but usually the towing only goes as far as Q2, because penalised drivers don’t want to reach Q3 and be committed to starting on the “wrong” tyre from the back of the grid.
This time around two of the penalised guys did make it out of Q2. Lando Norris managed to do it on the favoured medium tyre and thus didn’t make any compromises, but Tsunoda had to use the soft, thus committing himself to using a tyre at the start that everyone else tried hard to avoid.
The upside for his team was that Gasly would have a tow for the crucial final run in Q3, and that’s what it worked towards.
The strategy meant that once he’d done his job and pulled Gasly down the straight Tsunoda would have to tour round knowing that a lot of fast cars would be coming up behind him on their final hot laps. In the event those he would have to let by were both Ferraris, both Red Bulls and both Mercedes.
Cooper, A. (2021, November 7). Why Tsunoda wasn’t at fault in Mexico F1 qualifying controversy. Motorsport. https://www.motorsport.com/f1/news/tsunoda-not-at-fault-mexico-qualifying-controversy/6755112/