Yuki Tsunoda confirmed by AlphaTauri to replace Daniil Kvyat for F1 2021
F1's worst-kept secret is finally confirmed with 20-year-old Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda named as Pierre Gasly's AlphaTauri team-mate for next season; Tsunoda, who replaces long-serving Daniil Kvyat, finished in third place in his rookie season of F2 with three race wins
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 16/12/20 12:54pm
Japan's Yuki Tsunoda has been confirmed at AlphaTauri for the 2021 Formula 1 season, where he will replace Daniil Kvyat in the team's line-up.
The worst-kept secret in the sport was finally confirmed by the Red Bull-owned team the day after Tsunoda drove for them in the young driver test in Abu Dhabi.
Tsunoda, 20, will be team-mate to Pierre Gasly.
A member of the young driver programmes of Red Bull and engine suppliers Honda, Tsunoda was F2's rookie of the year with a third-place finish in the championship and becomes the third driver from this year's feeder series to graduate to an F1 seat for next year.
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F2 champion Mick Schumacher and Russia's Nikita Mazepin, who finished fifth, have signed for Haas. Runner-up Callum Ilott was on Tuesday confirmed as Ferrari's test driver for 2021.
Tsunoda said: "Like most racing drivers, it has always been my goal to race in Formula 1, so I am very happy with this news. I want to thank Scuderia AlphaTauri, Red Bull and Dr. Marko for giving me this opportunity, and of course everyone from Honda, for all their support so far in my career, giving me great opportunities to race in Europe.
"I must also thank the teams that I have raced with to get to this point, particularly Carlin, with whom I have learned so much this year. I realise 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."
Japan's last F1 driver was Kamui Kobayashi in 2014.
Two seats are now left to fill for next season but news on both is expected imminently. Lewis Hamilton is keen to finally conclude his new Mercedes contract by Christmas, while Red Bull are set to make a final decision on whether they retain Alex Albon or sign free agent Sergio Perez.
CONFIRMED 2021 FORMULA 1 GRID... SO FAR
Mercedes: TBC and Valtteri Bottas
Red Bull: Max Verstappen and TBC
McLaren: Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris
Aston Martin: Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll
Alpine: Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon
Ferrari: Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz
AlphaTauri: Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda
Alfa Romeo: Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi
Haas: Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher
Williams: George Russell and Nicholas Latifi
Tsunoda's promise and what now for Kvyat?
Franz Tost, AlphaTauri's team boss, said Tsunoda - a Japanese F4 champion and race winner in F3 prior to his arrival in F2 - had shown "the right mix of racing aggression and good technical understanding" on track this season.
"During the test in Imola in November when he drove our 2018 car, his lap times were very consistent over a race simulation, he progressed throughout the day and gave our engineers useful feedback," added Tost.
"In addition, his integration with the Honda engineers has been seamless, which certainly helps. At the test in Abu Dhabi this week, he proved to be a fast learner and that he is ready to make the step to Formula 1."
Kvyat, meanwhile, may now return an F1 test driver role elsewhere in the sport. He has already set sights on a return to the grid for 2022.
The Russian, now 26, first raced for the former Toro Rosso team in 2014 as the reigning GP3 champion before being handed an immediate promotion to Red Bull for the following season when Sebastian Vettel left for Ferrari.
Dropped back down to the sister team after four races of 2016 with Max Verstappen moving the other way, Kvyat was let go from the Red Bull programme entirely at the end of a difficult 2017.
But after a successful and educational year on Ferrari's books as the Scuderia's development driver, Kvyat returned to Toro Rosso in 2019 and in the two seasons since has claimed 17 points finishes - including the third podium of his career at last year's German GP.
However, Gasly, the shock winner of September's Italian GP, has comfortably won their head-to-head at the team despite an improved end to the season for Kvyat.