It has been a whirlwind year so far for Yuki Tsunoda as the team leader at AlphaTauri.
The team has undergone significant management changes behind the scenes, after Team Principal Franz Tost - who has been at the helm for 18 years - elected to step down ahead of 2024.
Tost will be replaced by former Ferrari Sporting Director Laurent Mekies and ex-FIA executive Peter Bayer, with Bayer already in post as CEO.
Tsunoda is also now on his third teammate of the season in Liam Lawson following the departure of Nyck de Vries due to poor results, and the sidelining of Daniel Ricciardo, after he broke his metacarpal in an unfortunate accident at Zandvoort.
This has all been topped off by one of his close team members whom he described as his 'best friend' leaving after the Canadian Grand Prix.
To say the Japanese driver has been pulling all the weight for the team this year is an understatement, with the three points they have scored all being down to his drives at Australia, Azerbaijan and most recently Belgium.
He was on for a decent result at Monza, before an engine failure on the formation lap put an early end to his chances.
Tsunoda spoke exclusively to RacingNews365 at the Italian Grand Prix about his season so far, and whether he plans to stay within the Red Bull family for the long term as they ditch Japanese engine supplier Honda from 2026.
"It would be nice if I could be able to stay at Red Bull," says Tsunoda.
"But to be honest, these things I don't know. They will decide it and I just have focus on what I have to do and make the result and naturally those two things will come."
Where does Tsunoda fit in?
The most logical step for a driver in AlphaTauri would be to graduate to the sister team and current world champions Red Bull.
But it has a driver conundrum as Sergio Perez fails to match the results of Max Verstappen, Ricciardo sets his sights on a full-time return, and Lawson proves his worth as the 'stand-in' amid a title challenge in Super Formula.
Where does Tsunoda fit into this equation?
"I don't try to think about those things, maybe I can step up to Red Bull," he says.
"Those are things that you never know. So it's useless to think about those things, I'm just focused on what I'm doing and keep delivering my results.
"I want to focus more on showing my value as a driver, not just for this Red Bull but also for the other teams, which is the most important thing. That is my target."
Former teammate Pierre Gasly has already proven that the Red Bull route is not always the best option, having graduated from what was then Toro Rosso for 2019 before being shunted back to the junior team mid-season due to poor results.
The Frenchman finally made a switch outside of the Red Bull group this year when he went to Alpine, alongside former karting rival Esteban Ocon. But the move has put attention on Gasly for all the wrong reasons, as they also struggle with management change and poor reliability.
The last two years I didn't improve enough as a driver
Prior to making the move to Alpine, it was a drive to AlphaTauri's second victory that enabled Gasly to show his worth to the grid.
"Exactly, that's what I need," responds Tsunoda, when asked if that is a similar route he wants to take.
"I think the last two years I didn't improve enough as a driver, my value, how good I am. I think a lot of situations changed and everyone started to see what he [Gasly] could do and I wasn't able to so far and show my good performance.
"I would say the car is hard to perform well [in] and it's good thing they still watch what I'm all about."
Tost was one of the key figures within the team that convinced Red Bull to take him on, after seeing his results during his rookie Formula 2 season in 2020. He claimed three wins and third place in the standings, just 15 points behind champion Mick Schumacher.
"For sure he gave me three years and it's a big thing," Tsunoda says of Tost's three-year plan.
"That's also why I wanted to perform well for him, because it's his last year at AlphaTauri and without him, obviously, I would not be here.
"So I just want to drive well, as an appreciation for him.
"At least I hope that he can smile fully after the end of the race in Abu Dhabi!"