The “big step” AlphaTauri saw from Tsunoda which earned him a new deal

Formula 1

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As Red Bull’s junior team, it’s unusual for AlphaTauri to give a new driver four consecutive seasons to prove themselves.

Whether in their current guise or previously as Toro Rosso, drivers either found themselves propelled upwards to Red Bull within a few seasons – as in the case of Max Verstappen, Sebastian Vettel and others – or quickly replaced, as Nyck de Vries discovered after less than half a season this year.

The team has kept the faith with Yuki Tsunoda, however. This is despite a downward trend in his points-svercoring which, of course, has more to do with the team’s decline in competitiveness than the quality of his efforts.

Having scored 32 points on his debut in 2021 he took just 12 last year as the team fell behind several of its rivals in the first year knew technical regulations were introduced. That downward trajectory has continued so far this season, and Tsunoda has only scored three points from the 15 rounds to date.

Tsunoda’s new F1 deal was confirmed at his home race
However chief race engineer Jonathan Eddolls said the downturn in the team’s performance this year makes it harder to appreciate the gains Tsunoda has made.

“The season has been a challenge for us as a team,” he said. “We haven’t had a package that we have had in previous years or the package that we expected to have. So it has been a challenge at each event even to score points.”

Aside from a trio of 10th-place finishes for Tsunoda, who also came home 11th three times in the first five races, AlphaTauri’s only other points were scored by his substitute team mate Liam Lawson. He took ninth last time out in Singapore after Tsunoda suffered terminal damage in a first-lap collision with Sergio Perez.

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Lawson is Tsunoda’s third different team mate this season. He started the year alongside Nyck de Vries, who despite being five years older than Tsunoda lacked F1 experience. The ever-improving Tsunoda filled the gap left by the team mate of his first two seasons, Pierre Gasly.

The AT04 has proved a disappointment this year
“Yuki has taken a quite a big step up this season,” said Eddolls. “He came in obviously with a rookie team mate, so in a way he was our most experienced Formula 1 driver. And he took that on his shoulders and performed well.

“He’s definitely maturing. We all know in his first year or so he was quite hot-headed in the cockpit, on the radio. He’s controlling all of that now and I think focusing that on understanding the car and focusing that on the driving. So I think we’re seeing a much more consistent Yuki this year.

“He’s shown as well, that he is very, very fast, capable. The lap in Singapore [when he was quickest in Q1] was a great example. Also he’s had some strong races. As I said, we just need to focus on improving the car to give him a package that he can consistently fight for points with.”

Tsunoda was promoted quickly into Formula One off the back of a single season in Formula Two. He has made strides in the quality of the feedback he gives to the team and his descriptions of what he requires from his car, said Eddolls.

“He’s focusing on understanding the car, giving better feedback. He’s maturing as a driver and that’s helping us focus on the areas to help him go faster. I think he’s also understanding more what he needs from the car, in terms of the balance characteristics, the entry stability, all these sorts of things.

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“Before, he was still learning and he went through the change of regulations. And us as a team, as well, we know how to extract the most from him based on the data, his feedback. So I think we’re gelling as a group and that’s showing in his performance.”

While points have proved hard to come by this year, Tsunoda has also suffered some frustrating setbacks. He hasn’t completed a racing lap in either of the last two events, as his car broke down on the formation lap at Monza.

“He’s frustrated at the time, for sure, but he’s very good at putting that behind him,” said Eddolls. “So, the frustration from Monza he was able to put behind him and really focus on Singapore.

“I think we saw in qualifying, the performance was there. We couldn’t quite get it together in Q2 for him. And then again, some frustration in the race with the collision.

“But again, coming here, we just tackle each event step-by-step. So that frustration has been put behind and we focus now on trying to extract the maximum from the package this weekend.”

Today’s announcement that Tsunoda will remain at AlphaTauri next year means his situation for 2024 is clear. If he can drive well enough to impress Red Bull, he has a chance to join Verstappen at the team when Perez’s contract concludes at the end of next year.

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Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has also taken note of the progress Tsunoda has made. “I think Yuki has made a step forward this year from what I’ve seen and followed,” he said.

“Speed-wise, he’s certainly very competitive and he’s rounded that off with some strong race performances this year. He’s also had a succession of 11th places – unfortunately he wasn’t picking up points obviously in those races but I think that on the whole he’s had a pretty decent season and shown evolution and maturity compared to previous seasons.”

Whether that proves enough to earn himself the most coveted seat in F1, against competition from Daniel Ricciardo once his latest team mate returns from injury, is now the key to Tsunoda’s F1 future.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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13 comments on “The “big step” AlphaTauri saw from Tsunoda which earned him a new deal”

  1. Guess Ricciardo isn’t coming back then. A shame. He and Lawson are better than Tsunoda, who’s been there for 3 seasons and can’t even be dominant against guys still getting to grips with that car.

    1. Well he’s back next season anyhow.

  2. Coventry Climax
    23rd September 2023, 19:04

    Lawson, so far, hasn’t needed any special treatment and/or patience, and seems to perform right from day one, yet he is passed for the coming season.
    The patience and faith they retained in Yuki, as well as ‘the big step’ he’s made, might very well be due to (augmented?) financial backing.
    It’s no secret de Vries had none of that and it seems to be in direct relation to the amount of patience and faith within the Alpha Tauri team.
    We know it often works that way, and it’s understandable as well, in a sense.
    But please just tell it like it is.

    1. LL has impressed, but his Singapore and all the attention it’s brought was down in large part to luck. Getting into the points required 1) Russell crashing 2) Ocon’s car dying 3) FA suspension issue 4) Yuki being blocked in quali and taken out on lap 1 by Perez 5) Perez punting Albon off the track when Albon had pulled onto Lawson’s tail after gaining 3 seconds a lap on Lawson and was inevitably going to pass him. So, that means he’s realistically finishing 12th or 13th without unusual attrition and incidents.

      I give him big credit for putting himself in a position to inherent all those positions though. I think he should replace Logan at Williams. They need a consistent second driver.

  3. Everybody rightly want to see what Lawson can do over a season, but fair play to Tsunoda he’s upped his game massively. The Alpha Tauri drivers are still hard to gauge however, as the team is incredibly inconsistent and has the worst racing-strategy on the grid.

    1. Has he? He got no benchmark since Gasly left.

      De Vries was supbar and the team obviously wasn’t making it any easier for him. Ricciardo and Lawson jumped in that car and from the go were competitive against Tsunoda.

      It was common sense that the car was terrible, but now with another proper driver there, not so much. It’s no worse than Alfa or Haas, but the duo of drivers were lacking.

  4. Yes (@come-on-kubica)
    23rd September 2023, 21:12

    Has he? He’s not done anything out of the ordinary – Lawson out qualified 2 red bulls including Verstappen. Yuki has done nothing special in 3 years apart.

    1. That sounds more impressive than it actually is (out-qualifying RB). He did a great job, but there’s a context there.

      1. Yes (@come-on-kubica)
        23rd September 2023, 23:53

        What context? Verstappen couldn’t qualify higher than the junior team – Vettel never had that issue in a less dominant Red Bull. He had a bad weekend but the car was much better than 11th.

        1. Context is in that particular qualifying session, alpha tauri was probably better than red bull. It’s not the first time this happens, there was some wet quali session in hungary, I think 2018, where again red bull didn’t make the tyres work, and toro rosso did and beat them.

  5. If nothing else, this whole ‘Honda must have a Japanese driver’ silliness is giving the Red Bull PR department some great exercise. Big steps. Good stuff.

    Wonder what kind of big step he’ll take once Ford comes into play.

  6. meh. I really wanted Yuki to succeed, but he seems pretty immature after 3 seasons. He just doesn’t seem to have the temperament or introspection to be a world class F1 driver. Not sure what they are seeing or waiting for.

    1. The most cynical comments are right here, he’s only there cause he’s japanese, there’s no other explanation to keep a driver who’s clearly not good enough to even replace a perez in trouble at red bull.

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