Honda-backed Tsunoda ended the seven-year wait for a full-time Japanese Grand Prix rider by securing a seat at AlphaTauri alongside Pierre Gasly for 2021, earning praise for his performance in testing pre-season and the Bahrain Grand Prix which opened the season.
The 20-year-old finished ninth in Bahrain to become the first Japanese driver to earn points in his debut.
Former Honda junior Matsushita, who raced against Tsunoda in F2 last year as the latter fought for the title at Carlin, gave his compatriot an “incredible” first season, underlining the strong point that gave him to succeed in the starting series where he failed.
“I think the good point about Tsunoda is that he doesn’t care,” Matsushita told Autosport. “If he makes a mistake, he just goes on to the next one. It’s really important.
“Whenever you make a mistake, most people think, ‘Next time, I can’t make a mistake.’ But he just says, “I made a mistake, I learned” and moves on. This is his great strength.
“AlphaTauri is pretty competitive, good enough for the top 10, so I think he’s going to have an amazing season. And I know how fast Gasly is, I ran with him [in 2015 and 2016] in GP2. Let’s see what Tsunoda can do against him. I am really happy to see.
Matsushita also noticed how quickly Tsunoda had progressed since his debut season in Europe in 2019, when he started two campaigns in the FIA F3 and Euroformula Open.
Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri AT02
Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images
“In 2019 he was doing F3 and it was the first time I met him,” said Matsushita. “We did a race together at the Euroformula Open [at the Hungaroring]. This time he wasn’t that competitive, made quite a few mistakes.
“But I think last year working with Carlin he’s improved a lot and he’s become a lot calmer.
“In qualifying, there is no doubt that he can be quick. In races he was often rather conservative at the start and then pushed at the end because he still had the tire.
“In F1, you have to be aggressive from the start. This is what he needs to improve. But I think he can do it.
Matsushita contrasted Tsunoda’s rapid rise with his own stint in GP2 and F2, which spanned five seasons between 2015 and 2020 and resulted in seven wins and a better sixth league finish – which came in 2019 with Carlin.
The 27-year-old added that he enjoys the more relaxed atmosphere of the SUPER GT after signing as a Nissan factory driver over the winter.
“I was trying to reach F1, and it was right in front of me, especially in 2019 because I was always supported by Honda and I knew that if I had done a good job I could have had the seat “, did he declare.
“The pressure was so great, but I was putting extra pressure on myself. I thought, “I have to do this, I have to do it.” It makes you a little steep. Last year, I knew it was my last chance, so I had to put absolutely everything on the line. And it wasn’t good.
“I am much more relaxed here [in SUPER GT] compared to when I was in Europe. Now I don’t have to prove anything anymore. I’m just having fun.