until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

Red Bull's overlooked F1 driver still isn't doing enough

by Edd Straw
4 min read

Yuki Tsunoda has never seriously been in consideration for promotion to Red Bull Racing, but given his strong start to the 2024 Formula 1 season, it’s fair to ask whether he should be.

After all he’s in the Red Bull ecosystem and has been one of the standout drivers in the second half of the field so far this season. He’s reached Q3 two times out of three in a car that is not quite quick enough for the top 10 thanks to combining good speed on his part with picking off underachievers among the top five teams.

He’s also comprehensively outperformed Daniel Ricciardo so far, with an average qualifying advantage of 0.446s – and even if you permit Ricciardo the laptime from his disallowed final Q1 attempt in Australia the gap is still 0.240s.

Tsunoda, much to his frustration, didn’t score in the opening two races, in Saudi Arabia thanks to the Kevin Magnussen rolling roadblock, but in Australia, everything came together with seventh place. Given the pace of the RB, it’s difficult to argue there was any way to do better. What’s more, team-mate Ricciardo was shocked by the pace Tsunoda extracted from the car in qualifying.

And yet, for all that, Ricciardo is still regarded as the more likely driver to secure promotion to Red Bull Racing – even if the prospects of that have faded over the past month.

That’s largely thanks to his history with the team and the fact he would likely, at this stage of his career, slot in comfortably in the number-two role but so far his performance is far short of where it needs to be.

Tsunoda, however, with his late-braking, attacking style is excelling in qualifying and showed in Australia that he’s capable of executing well in the races after Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko questioned the race performance before the weekend.

“Hopefully they will consider it,” said Tsunoda in Australia about the hopes of forcing himself into Red Bull contention. “At the same time, I do as much as I can to show the performance even to other teams. I just want to increase my value as a driver [and prove] that I can fight. I don’t know what’s going on with Red Bull, but hopefully they will strongly consider it as well.”

Despite Marko describing Tsunoda’s mature Australia race in positive terms, the key question mark hanging over the 23-year-old is his temperament. That’s something he admits is a problem, most recently with his antics on the slowdown lap after the Bahrain Grand Prix. He described that as “getting heating moments in my brain”, which has been a persistent weakness for him.

While that’s the one flashpoint this season, he also had mistakes in the run-in last season when what was then called AlphaTauri had the pace to have overhauled Williams for seventh in the constructors’ championship. In Mexico, Tsunoda turned in on Oscar Piastri and cost himself what he thought could have been a fifth place given the strategy and car pace, while in Brazil a needless spin on his way to ninth meant he lost a shot at seventh.

“It’s the thing I have to improve,” says Tsunoda when asked about the need to contain his emotions and avoid what he characterises as brain overheating. “If I do those things again, it will be more issues. So I’m working on it. And yes, I'll show improve. [I] need more than two steps, not just like one step. And I have confidence that I can prove that.

“It’s up to them [Red Bull] if they want me or not. But [I’m] mainly focusing on self-control. Other than that, I have pretty good confidence. I’m achieving most of it and I just keep improving.”

The trouble is, Tsunoda has been working on his emotional control in the cockpit since the start of his F1 career in 2021 and the improvement has been too slow.

This is the fundamental flaw that means Red Bull won’t look to him. And even this season, you could argue that his unflustered drive in an uncomplicated race in Australia, even one in which he said “it wasn’t easy because a couple of teams picked up the pace”, doesn’t answer any questions about his ability to deliver in high-stress on-track situations.

That’s why Tsunoda needs to make what happened at the end of the Bahrain GP an aberration this year rather than just one example of many. If – and it’s a big if – he can get that side of his game under control then Red Bull would have no choice but to take him seriously as a candidate for promotion.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks