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Yuki Tsunoda

Tsunoda's Red Bull chances appear slim despite burying Ricciardo

Yuki Tsunoda's F1 future within the Red Bull family is a hot topic following his impressive performances for RB.

Tsunoda Monaco
Analysis
To news overview © Red Bull Content Pool

The one thing the Red Bull young driver programme has earned over the years is a tough reputation. 

Dr. Helmut Marko's requirements are simple: you get a chance to deliver at the second team, and if you impress, you get a shot at the main Red Bull squad. 

If do not prove your pace immediately, you are out and the next cab off the rank is slotted in - just ask Pierre Gasly (mid-2019) and Alex Albon (end of 2020). For a process that has churned out seven world championships for Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen, and a further two grand prix winners in Daniel Ricciardo and Gasly, it is one without fault. 

But the pool ran dry towards the end of 2020 as Albon struggled to match Verstappen, with the team electing to run its first outside driver since Mark Webber in the shape of Sergio Perez - a loyal number two to Verstappen who joined for '21.

At the same time, Yuki Tsunoda was given his chance in grand prix racing, and despite some bumps along the way, has started 2024 as one of the most consistent, fastest and refined packages on the grid. 

In a car fighting for sixth, maybe fifth fastest Tsunoda has 18 points from the first eight races, with the other nine drivers from RB, Haas, Williams, Alpine, and Stake having 16 between them. 

Given the level of performances, Tsunoda is putting in, in any other era, he would have been given a chance at Red Bull's senior team, but it is increasingly unlikely this will ever happen.

Red Bull is not an option

As soon as Daniel Ricciardo returned to what was then AlphaTauri in mid-2023, it was clear that both he and Tsunoda would be in a shootout for potentially getting the second Red Bull cockpit. 

Very simply, both knew that losing to the other would effectively end their hopes of making it to Red Bull, and likely their career, with Ricciardo falling into relative midfield obscurity as Tsunoda racks up the points - claiming in five of the eight races thus far.

Given the competitive state of F1, he is not going to be challenging for the odd podium or big points haul, but by extracting the maximum from his package weekend in, weekend out, Tsunoda is continuing to knock on Marko's door. 

Part through necessity in both 2015 and 2019, Red Bull promoted a driver to the senior team who it felt still required another season at Toro Rosso, with Danill Kvyat and Pierre Gasly both getting the chop for Verstappen and Albon, respectively.

Both were promoted within two years having a couple of decent results, but were arguably not ready to handle the pressure of an elite team. 

Tsunoda started this season off drawing well-earned criticism for not playing the team game and almost driving into Ricciardo in Bahrain after being told to let him through to attack Kevin Magnussen. 

That is not the temperament expected by Red Bull and was a severe black mark on Tsunoda's copybook, but since then, he has led RB as team-leader and put himself in the shop window if he is over-looked by Marko.

But perhaps Tsunoda has never been in with a chance of a Red Bull seat. 

He started 2021 with a bang with points on his debut in Bahrain before a bad run of form coincided with his infamous lax attitude towards training and expletive-laden radio messages. 

For Red Bull, the off-track approach of a young driver is just as important as the on-track speed, but Tsunoda could not marry the two. 

In Mexico City that year, Red Bull boss Christian Horner claimed "we got Tsunoda'd" after qualifying where both Red Bulls came across an innocent Tsunoda and lost their laps. 

Is that really the verdict of a team principal who can envisage a driver at his team, even if Horner did row-back on the comment later in the weekend.

Where for Tsunoda?

The smart money is on Tsunoda at some point, making a switch to Aston Martin for when it partners up with Honda in 2026. 

The only trouble there is that Fernando Alonso has committed to a two-year deal with the Silverstone team and Lance Stoll has the seat for as long as he wants it. 

Of the other teams, Tsunoda is not going to Ferrari, Mercedes or McLaren, and from where RB is in the current pecking order, a move to Alpine, Haas, Williams or Stake would be a step down. 

As Stake morphs into Audi, that could be an option, particularly if Carlos Sainz continues to dilly-dally over the offer on the table. 

For the time being, it feels as if Tsunoda's place in the driver market will open up post-2025 and for that season, he would be best suited to staying where he is and continuing to pump in these stand-out performances and seeing what other options open up for him.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

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