One of the worst kept secrets in Formula 1 is finally out - Yuki Tsunoda will make his grand prix debut with AlphaTauri in 2021. 

The move was expected for some weeks, with Red Bull opting to promote the 20-year-old to replace Daniil Kvyat in its sister team’s line-up alongside Pierre Gasly for next year following an impressive rookie Formula 2 campaign in which he finished third. 

Tsunoda, backed by the Honda Formula Dream Project, will become the first Japanese driver to race in F1 since Kamui Kobayashi, who last competed in 2014 with the Caterham outfit. 

During his own time in F1, Kobayashi caused a regular stir of excitement with his mix of speed and bold overtaking manoeuvres during his Sauber stint, and there are comparable levels of anticipation surrounding Tsunoda’s graduation. 

“Fans in Japan are waiting for a driver to be in Formula 1,” Tsunoda said in a recent interview with the official Formula 1 website before his AlphaTauri drive was sealed. 

“I can see this from social media. I would say that I have pressure from Japan, but a good pressure, not a bad pressure. They are waiting for a Japanese Formula 1 driver and I am one of the closest to achieving this. I would like to deliver for them.

"My dream is to be a Formula 1 world champion and if I’d struggled in Formula 2, then this would have been really difficult,” he added. “I had to deliver in my rookie season, like Lando Norris and George Russell did.” 

And he has done exactly that. After a quiet start to life in F3 with Jenzer Motorsport, Tsunoda caught the eye in the second half of the season, notching up a win and two podiums before earning a move to F2 alongside fellow Red Bull junior Jehan Daruvala at Carlin after just one full campaign racing in Europe. 

An outstanding rookie F2 season - particularly the second half of the campaign - proved to be Tsunoda’s real breakthrough. Having already appeared on the podium in Austria and Silverstone, Tsunoda claimed his maiden victory in the category in the sprint race at the British Grand Prix venue, and then recorded his first feature race win at Spa-Francorchamps three races later.

Another podium came in Sochi with a second-place finish, before Tsunoda converted his fourth pole position of the season into a commanding victory in the Bahrain feature race, which he followed up with second place in the season finale, to round out his debut season third in the series standings. 

Tsunoda’s progression to F1 has been rapid, even if not as staggeringly quick as the rise of fellow trailblazing Red Bull prodigy Max Verstappen, who was fast-tracked into the then Toro Rosso squad after just a year of single-seater racing. Tsunoda has gone from F4 to F1 via single-season spells in F3 and F2 in the space of three years and he will be the first driver to race in the championship born in 2000 or later.

Despite concern that he could have moved up the ladder too soon, Tsunoda acquitted himself excellently and has thrived and thrilled under the pressure of the watchful eyes of Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko to prove he is ready for his F1 shot, impressing with a combination of his raw speed, daring overtakes and race management abilities. 

And so followed Wednesday’s official confirmation of what we had long come to expect. 

“Like most racing drivers, it has always been my goal to race in Formula 1, so I am very happy with this news," said Tsunoda. 

"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.”

Tsunoda already has some experience in F1 machinery, having followed up his first taste of driving a 2018-spec car at Imola last month with an outing for AlphaTauri in the team’s 2020 AT01 during Tuesday’s post-season Abu Dhabi test, where he ended the day with the fifth-fastest time. 

AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost said the Japanese racer was quick to impress the Faenza outfit in his short time bedding himself in with the team. 

"Red Bull has been following Yuki's career for a while now and I am sure he will be a great asset to our team," the Austrian added. 

"Watching him in F2 this year, he has demonstrated the right mix of racing aggression and good technical understanding.

"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.

"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 F1."

A final thought must be spared for Kvyat, who departs AlphaTauri with little in the way of a send off. 

The Russian can leave the Faenza outfit with his head held high following a mighty end to the 2020 season, as he focuses his attention on securing a return to the grid with a new team for 2022. 

Kvyat has often been the fall guy for Red Bull’s juniors and on this occasion, he is the unfortunate victim of Tsunoda’s promotion.