Toro Rosso, and then AlphaTauri, was well known for delivering Red Bull junior drivers with their first opportunities in F1.
Names including Alex Albon and Carlos Sainz had their maiden races with Toro Rosso while others such as Max Verstappen, Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo progressed through the junior squad before being promoted to Red Bull.
However, as it enters its RB era, the team is no longer operating as a junior outfit. Having tightened its links to Red Bull this year on a technical level, it is aiming to make gains up the pecking order and compete higher up the grid than it ever has before.
Getting to that level with a rookie or inexperienced line-up would be a difficult task - and it’s why AlphaTauri is making a philosophy change that could secure Yuki Tsunoda’s future.
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A new direction
Last year. the team’s new CEO Peter Bayer exclusively told RacingNews365 that going forward, the squad “will not race with two juniors”.
“We will always have one experienced driver who will take one young driver under his wings and help him to develop," he added.
RB’s line-up for the upcoming season has no shortage of experience, with eight-time race winner and veteran Daniel Ricciardo paired alongside Tsunoda.
Ricciardo has made no secret of the fact that his aim is to return to Red Bull in the future and round out his career with his former squad.
Add in Perez’s difficulties last season, which produced consistent questions over his race seat, and the Australian is automatically labelled as a strong suitor to replace him.
Should Ricciardo’s performances this year be strong enough to rebuild his reputation to his pre-McLaren years, perhaps even Mercedes will seek out the Australian's services as they look to replace Ferrari-bound Lewis Hamilton.
Whatever the case, his long-term future is not at VCARB and it's why Tsunoda may not face the ruthless game of musical chairs that was often present in the past within the organisation.
Tsunoda's safety net
Bayer asserted that RB aims to always have one experienced driver in its line-up to guide another young hopeful through the opening perils of an F1 career.
Working simply under the assumption that there are no external opportunities presented to Tsunoda for 2025 and beyond, the Japanese driver fits all the boxes that VCARB requires.
Tsunoda’s value of having four seasons under his belt [at the end of the upcoming season] is further boosted by the experience he has working with the individuals and facilities of the VCARB squad.
His likely team-mate for next year should Ricciardo leave is Liam Lawson, who already impressed during his five-race substitute stint at the AlphaTauri last year.
Tsunoda’s performances across the last 12 months were noted for being solid improvements on his previous campaigns and the Japanese driver is slowly earning his spot on the grid following a shaky first two seasons.
But the danger for the 23-year-old exists in the scenario that Ricciardo is not lured away and decides that RB is the best option for him going forward - Ricciardo’s experience and proven speed are simply much greater than that of Tsunoda.
However, it’s difficult to imagine that a driver of Ricciardo’s calibre, despite his struggles with McLaren, won’t be a major factor in the driver market this year and it may be a situation that Tsunoda is hoping for - it will likely see his spot on the grid retained even if he is prone to difficulties behind the wheel this year.