Yuki Tsunoda was able to charge to second place in the final classification thanks to some rapid late runs on Sunday evening in Bahrain, ending testing just 0.093 seconds off Max Verstappen’s fastest time.
It was a performance that turned heads throughout the paddock, not only for how good the AlphaTauri AT02 car is looking, but also for how well Tsunoda is already faring ahead of his F1 debut next weekend.
But was there a secret trick behind Tsunoda’s efforts late in Sunday’s Bahrain running?
Some eagle-eyed TV viewers and users on Reddit’s F1 subsection spotted that Tsunoda appeared to be opening DRS far, far earlier than normal during his final qualifying simulations.
The final DRS zone in Bahrain on the main straight started 170m from the exit of Turn 15 last year. In the image from the above tweet, that is in line with the blue Aramco sign, showing just how much earlier Tsunoda had DRS activated.
It was not limited to a single lap, either, with the onboards showing that Tsunoda was regularly activating the DRS flap on the left-hand side of his steering wheel as soon as he got the car straightened up at the exit of the Turn 14/15 final complex.
The data also points to a much earlier DRS usage than typically permitted. Tsunoda comfortably topped the speed trap on the final day of pre-season testing with a top speed of 322 km/h, finishing 3 km/h clear of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in second place.
McLaren’s Lando Norris also made a cheeky comment on Instagram at the end of the day after Tsunoda posted that he had a “very smooth day with both race sims and short runs”. Norris commented: “How’s the DRS” along with the laughing face emoji.
As pre-season testing is not an official F1 race weekend, there are no restrictions on where DRS can be used around laps, not limiting drivers to the three exact zones used in Bahrain last year. It means Tsunoda’s laps remain completely valid, even if there would undoubtedly have been a gain made in his final time.
It also should not downplay just how good AlphaTauri was through pre-season testing. Asked by Motorsport.com about Tsunoda’s impressive display, Norris quipped back: “I like how you say really impressive – he’s a good driver! I don’t think there’s any shock with it.
“The AlphaTauri is looking strong. I think looking at onboards and seeing the data that we can see, they look like they have a very strong car. It looks very nice to drive. Good in all kind of conditions.
“I can say just from looking the AlphaTauri looks strong. They look like they’ve just had a clean few days, they’ve looked good in every run they’ve done, the long runs as well when everyone knows they’re just going to be at high fuel, and so on. They look strong.”
Tsunoda can take plenty of heart from his final day performance, especially the mileage after suffering some setbacks on the first two days.
“It was a really really good day, good progress, no issues,” Tsunoda said. “I just focused on my driving. The last two days, we had a little bit of bad luck, but today, we put it all together, and I think the mechanics and Honda did a really, really good job, and there were no issues.
“For my learning, from my driving, I did a whole race simulation for the tyre management side. I had a good step forward and good data for Bahrain, so it was good.”