Yuki Tsunoda's phone began buzzing shortly after Hideki Matsuyama sunk his final putt at Augusta National to become the first Japanese golfer to win the Masters Tournament.
Fans in Tsunoda's home country of Japan, swept up in the 29-year-historic old's one-stroke win, sent a strong message to the AlphaTauri Formula 1 driver: now it's your turn.
Long before Matsuyama got his hands on Golf's iconic green jacket, 2021 was shaping up to be a big year for sport in Japan, with Tokyo scheduled to host this year's Olympic Games - COVID permitting.
Tsunoda had begun another historic moment for Japan a fortnight before, as the first Japanese driver to compete in Formula One since Kamui Kobayashi in 2014.
Tsunoda, who was born just 50 kilometers from Japan's capital in Sagamihara 21 years ago this May, made his Formula One debut at last month's Bahrain Grand Prix. Tsunoda finished ninth, becoming the eighth Japanese driver to score a point in Formula One.
Tsunoda discussed his personal desire to make his own piece of F1 history in an exclusive interview with Crash.net last Thursday ahead of the second round at Imola.
According to Tsunoda, "I’m not currently thinking too much about becoming a world champion or winning a race,"
He added, “I really just focus on each session-by-session. That makes me better on the mentality side to focus on the driving in the session. If I get a win this season, the first win for a Japanese driver, that would be really good. It would be really great for me. Most of the Japanese motorsport fans are waiting for that."
To continue, “I got a lot of messages after the Masters when [we had] the first Japanese golf winner in history. Especially after that, I got a lot of messages from Japanese fans saying, ‘next, it’s your turn’. It would be great if I got that win but now I’m thinking about each race-by-race and just focusing on my driving to improve.”
Tsunoda was brought down down to earth with a bang at Imola in what proved to be a difficult weekend for the youngster three weeks after the highs of his brilliant Bahrain debut.
Tsunoda had high hopes for a first Q3 appearance at a track he had tested at many times over the winter in preparation for his rookie F1 season, but a bad qualifying crash doomed him to a back-of-the-grid start.
Tsunoda recovered well in an action-packed race held in mixed conditions to finish in the top-10, but he paid the price for being too greedy on the throttle and spinning around at the first chicane moments after pulling off a daring overtake on seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes to take P8. He would eventually place 13th.
Making mistakes is inevitable in F1, particularly given Tsunoda's steep learning curve after just two full seasons of single-seater racing in Europe, including a single season in Formula 2 where he finished third overall as the best-placed rookie with three victories.
Before the season began, the 20-year-old made it clear that he is not afraid to make mistakes in his first year in Formula One, knowing that he has the full support of his AlphaTauri team to learn and grow as a driver.
Tsunoda is a cool, respectful, and entertaining person outside of the car. When the visor is removed, however, he is a ferocious competitor, as shown by many expletive radio rants during his first two grand prix weekends.