F1 trainer feared sack after causing ‘very reckless’ injury to Yuki Tsunoda

Henry Valantine
Yuki Tsunoda arrives in Bahrain.

AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda sports a bruised eye as he arrives in the paddock in Bahrain.

Michael Italiano, performance coach of Yuki Tsunoda, has revealed that he accidentally caused an eye injury to the AlphaTauri driver just hours before the F1 season was due to start.

The two were taking in a session to get the Japanese driver prepared for FP1 in Bahrain in March and Tsunoda threw a golf ball, which was being used as part of the session, at Italiano’s shin.

He then responded by throwing it back in his driver’s direction, but he accidentally caused a huge amount of pain by hitting the AlphaTauri driver square in the eye.

Yuki Tsunoda ‘hit straight in the eye’ with golf ball hours before 2023 season started

Italiano began working with Tsunoda at the beginning of this year after parting ways professionally with Daniel Ricciardo, who had lost his full-time drive with McLaren at the end of 2022.

But after only a couple of months, Italiano feared that his position may be at risk after accidentally injuring his driver a matter of hours before the first session of the season.

Thankfully, he was able to go racing, but it wasn’t for a big scare beforehand.

“This was the first time I actually thought I may lose my job, I felt fairly safe until this moment!” Italiano recalled on thePitstop Podcast.

“So pre-season went well, did testing in Italy, everything was looking really good, Yuki was super fit.

“We’ve come into Bahrain first race and where we stay in Bahrain, we stay in the beach. It’s a really nice spot.

“Every morning I was teaching Yuki a mobility session. So just wake up in the morning, we go on the grass, get some sun in the morning to get some natural sunlight, and we just sit on the grass and we’ll just do a mobility session because he was a bit stiff when I first got a hold of him in January, and he was really enjoying these mobility sessions in the morning just getting some sun.

“So Friday came around, I’ve texted him, was like: ‘Cool. Let’s do our mobility session.’

“We’ve gone out and rolled the mats out and essentially I have a golf ball, and we use the golf ball to roll out the ball of our feet and just loosen up our feet.

“So he’s rolling his feet and I’ve got the foam roller so I’m rolling out my back. And then what he’s done is he’s grabbed the golf ball, and he’s just lobbed it onto my shin.

“Yeah, obviously it hurt. He’s giggling because you know, good thing about me and Yuki, we banter each other quite a lot. So I let him go.

“And then he starts, he took the foam roller and start rolling his back. So I grabbed the golf ball, and then as I was walking to get the spiky ball, I just threw the golf ball.

“I wasn’t even looking, and I just thought, I’ll just lob it and it’ll probably get him in the shin or something.

“I’ve lobbed it and he’s rolling on his back. And it has hit him straight in the eye. Like, right eye. And I even heard the pop, he hit it clean. Golf balls are hard and it was a fair, decent lob.

“He was rolling in pain, holding on to his eye. I panicked, so I ran to get some ice, came back with some ice. And I was like, ‘Dude, just put this on your face. I’m so sorry.’

“To be honest. I was waiting for him just to absolutely tear me apart. To his point, I think he was just in so much pain, he just didn’t.

“I’ve never apologised so much in my life.”

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Tsunoda was soon plied with an ice pack to try and reduce the swelling, with a game of table tennis in between to test whether or not his vision was up to scratch.

But after arriving at the track, Italiano made the best attempt he could to try and cover up his driver’s injury, which had mixed results.

“I’d stormed into the paddock, gone straight into hospitality and [told people] ‘don’t say anything about his eye, alright? I’ve got it sorted’.

“I’ve run straight to the doctor. I’m like, ‘we need eyedrops, this is what I’ve done’ and the doctor is like ‘you idiot’.

“I’ve gone to the mechanics [and said] ‘don’t say anything to Yuki about his eye.’ Literally the first person that walks into our race room, I haven’t told the marketing team, literally the marketing team walked in: ‘Oh my god, what happened to your eye?’

“And Yuki, I could tell he was frustrated like, ‘what have you done to me’ sort of thing. Thankfully, he was okay. We used some eyedrops.

“His eye was hurting for about 10 days after, unfortunately, so we did have to keep a close eye on it.

“可是,嘿,我没有失去我的工作,剩下的是你好story. We actually had a pretty good race one actually. So yeah, I think we finished P11.

“Thankfully, because I was like if we have a bad race, I’m definitely getting the blame here, like 100%”

“But yeah, just a freak accident where I’ve literally hurt my driver before a race weekend, which is not ideal.

“It definitely could have [been worse], I 100% understand like, it was very reckless of me to just throw it.”

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