When Red Bull gave their raw 21-year-old rookie Yuki Tsunoda a second season in Formula 1 for 2022, it was easy to see why.
In the twilight of his second season where, again, he was as ragged as he was racy, how many new conclusions are there to draw about Tsunoda and his level of talent than from 12 months ago?
Given the level of car performance most drivers enjoy when they first step up to Formula 1, Tsunoda had been dealt a decent hand with the AT02 in 2021. Unfortunately, its new ground-effect successor was not as potent, however that did not stop Tsunoda from starting his season off solidly with two points for eighth place – a decent recovery from being eliminated from Q1, seven tenths behind team mate Pierre Gasly.
Frustratingly, Tsunoda missed the second round in Saudi Arabia through zero fault of his own after a driveline failure on his way to the grid. But while Gasly took ninth place in Melbourne, Tsunoda struggled on hard tyres and fell down to 15th by the chequered flag.
If there was one weekend that demonstrated what Tsunoda was capable of when he gets everything right, it was Imola. Throughout a challenge sprint weekend where the weather wreaked havoc, he was quicker than Gasly in every session, finishing five places ahead of him in both the Saturday and Sunday races after catching and passing Kevin Magnussen and Sebastian Vettel in the later laps.
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But while Imola was clear evidence of Tsunoda’s driving talent, he was also developing a talent for drawing the attention of the stewards. By the time he woke up on Saturday morning in Monaco, only the seventh round of the championship, he had already received two fines and four reprimands – leaving him only one away from a grid penalty. Then, in that afternoon’s qualifying, he managed to ruin Gasly’s Q1 by causing a red flag by hitting the barrier at the chicane and dislodging it. In the race, he struggled on the drying track, dropping to the very back of the field and finishing last of all runners.
In Baku, Tsunoda put in an admirable performance that deserved to be rewarded with so much more. Running in sixth just over ten seconds behind his team mate, his DRS flap snapped in two and the stewards forced him to pit for repairs, denying him a potential best finish of the season, much to his frustration.
Unfortunately, Tsunoda would have no excuses for his next two races. In Montreal, he started from the very rear after power unit penalties but got stuck behind Zhou Guanyu. As he made his way out of the pit lane, he speared straight off the track and into the barriers – one of the most humiliating moments any driver suffered all season.
Then, at Silverstone, he committed the cardinal sin of crashing into his team mate when he locked up and spun while trying to pass him into Village corner. Not only did he single-handedly ruin any chances of points for both him and Gasly, debris from the collision was then collected by Red Bull’s championship contender Max Verstappen, which compromised the rest of his race and did little to help Tsunoda’s standing within the Red Bull stable.
Whatever he did, Tsunoda just could not get into a rhythm. He put in a decent qualifying performance at Paul Ricard, only for Esteban Ocon to mess up his race on the opening lap. In Hungary, he was asked to let Gasly through before spinning at the chicane entirely of his own accord, leaving him finishing last once again. In Spa, he was easily out-qualified by Gasly, but then took his car from a pit lane start to 13th after beating Zhou on the final lap.
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In Zandvoort, he successfully beat Gasly to Q3 and was ahead of him in the race, but a bizarre sequence when he suffered differential failure saw him reprimanded for stopping his car, undoing his seat belts, then driving back to the pits before having to stop again the next lap. With this, he’d finally earned his fifth driving reprimand and was awarded a five-place grid drop for Monza as a result.
By now, Tsunoda had gone ten races without scoring a single point. Gasly was hardly finding it easier than his team mate to reach the top ten, but was sitting on double his team mate’s points tally. Another silly mistake in Singapore saw him crash out of a race for a second time during the season, but at least he fared better at his home grand prix at Suzuka than his team mate – even if he was still well out of the points.
Fortunately, points would finally come in the United States. Despite starting from the back of the field after another penalty and then being left behind with a terrible start, he did a good job of progressing up the order to finish ahead of Gasly in tenth. He was in the fight to steal a point in Mexico a week later, but was rudely barged out of contention by Daniel Ricciardo.
It was also not his fault that he was caught up unable to unlap himself behind the Safety Car in Brazil due to a mix-up with the regulations, but by this stage he would have already been looking ahead to 2023, his place on the grid for next season having been confirmed. In his last race alongside Gasly, Tsunoda was the better AlphaTauri driver across the Abu Dhabi weekend, just missing out on a point in 11th.
In a challenging season for AlphaTauri, Tsunoda had managed to match and beat his race-winning team mate more consistently than his rookie year. While it seems he is getting faster, he will also have to produce a far more polished and disciplined season in 2023 to avoid being this far down the rankings next season.
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7 comments on “2022 F1 driver rankings #17: Yuki Tsunoda”
Steve Rogers (@yossarian)
12th December 2022, 9:44
I believe Tsunoda is evidence to the fact people mature at different rates. Despite joining the grid at 20 he has probably been the least mature driver to race an F1 car I can remember. This also proves just how arbitrary the age limit brought in after Verstappen is.
If next year he does show signs of growing up then, as his occasional strong performances this year show, he will have been well worth Red Bull’s investment. But it will be his last chance as otherwise it will be hard not to conclude that while he may have the speed and racecraft he just doesn’t have the right mentality.
12th December 2022, 12:11
I don’t know how closely you follow backmarkers like Alpha Tauri, but Tsunoda has matured a lot this season.
1. He lost 2 engines in Jeddah, he had to receive numerous penalties for it.
2. Every time he started in Q3, something bad happened to the car (Miami-Brakes, Baku-DRS, Zandvoort-Differential, France-Ocon) after such bad luck he spoke badly about the team? No.
3. Repeatedly wrong strategies. Alpha Tauri brake problems in the final part of the season. It was Gasly who cried a lot more than he Yuki.
Gasly grabbed a lot of penalty points and ran to the FIA to change the rules for him. Yuki when he had a knife at the throat of 8 points tapped at the beginning of the season, he said that he needs to improve and now he only has 4, where 2 is due to a communication error during the yellow flag. He has always stood by the team and admitted to every mistake he made – Gasly admitted to none and made many more, especially when dealing with other drivers.
Remember what the FIA did to him in Brazil? Did you hear him get mad on the radio? He didn’t even care about it, he was only interested that something was wrong with the car. And in fact it was because they replaced almost all the parts and in Abu Dhabi he massacred Pierre.
He’s a lot more mature than Gasly at the moment, don’t let appearances fool you.
12th December 2022, 10:33
He’s got more potential than that pin head Gasly.
12th December 2022, 11:22
I think Tsunoda has more potential and should be ranked above Zhou and Stroll this year. It’s his second year and yes he made some stupid mistakes but I hope he will do better next year because I like the guy for his straight no nonsense approach.
12th December 2022, 11:46
Yes, Zhou was non-descript and possibly better off in WEC.
Stroll went straight from F3 to a bought seat at Williams, but still looks better than either.
12th December 2022, 14:09
To compare a guy with 6 seasons under his name to others with 2 and 1 is really something.
If Stroll were to get in F1 the way Tsunoda and Zhou did, he’d be long gone already.
12th December 2022, 15:11
Tsunoda is in a tough spot. These Red Bulls were – relatively speaking – much worse this season than in 2021, so even on his better days it was still hard to make a solid impression. He still had some silly moments, as mentioned, and does often sound like he is really on edge. However, as @eightyeight notes, he’s also had tough luck and has increasingly settled in.
It’s probably taking him much longer than Red Bull would have liked, but if he can get himself into a spot where he can perform at his best every weekend he’ll definitely be an asset to the team. In his third season, he’ll probably have to deliver on that promise though – because needing over 60 GPs to get to grips with the sport is a tough sell.
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