Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2023

2023 Formula 1 driver rankings #14: Yuki Tsunoda

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Ever since purchasing the Minardi team back in 2005 to transform them into what was then Toro Rosso, Red Bull have been fairly consistent in their philosophy when it comes to the young drivers they place in their second team.

Only drivers worthy of remaining for a full season are afforded that privilege. Only those who deserve a second year, get one. A select few may get the special honour of a third season. But typically, if you fail to prove yourself ready for a step up into Red Bull’s senior team at the end of your third season, that will be the end of the line for you.

So when Yuki Tsunoda was offered a third season at AlphaTauri in 2023, all signs pointed to this being a make-or-break year for the young Red Bull prospect. Although he was ultimately as unspectacular as he had been in previous seasons, he appears to have convinced Red Bull that he is still worth investing in beyond 2023.

Tsunoda spent his first two years in Formula 1 with a much more experienced team mate in Pierre Gasly. While being outscored and generally outperformed over both seasons by Gasly was to be expected, Tsunoda demonstrated an unfortunate habit of making some major mistakes – even into his second season. But heading into 2023, Gasly had departed and now Tsunoda was the senior driver at in Faenza. Even if his new rookie team mate, Nyck de Vries, was five years older than him and a Formula E world champion.

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Baku City Circuit, 2023
Tsunoda took points when the AlphaTauri was at its worst
Unlike his first two seasons, AlphaTauri lacked the performance required to regularly fight for points in 2023. But despite his car’s relative lack of pace, Tsunoda managed to knock on the door of points by finishing 11th in each of the opening three rounds of the season. However, thanks to Carlos Sainz Jnr’s post-race penalty in Melbourne, 11th there became 10th and he had finally been rewarded for his efforts. The next round in Baku, another 10th place finish brought a second point, before he took another 11th place finish in Miami.

Although his results over the opening phase of the season had not set the world alight, Tsunoda was not only demonstrating exactly the kind of consistency that he should have in his third season, but he was also emphatically out-performing De Vries alongside him. But then in Austria, flashes of the old Tsunoda began to show. Over the three days of the sprint weekend, he made notable errors in each one, earning 20 seconds’ worth of time penalties in the grand prix to finish behind De Vries in 19th place.

In Hungary, Tsunoda suddenly found himself with a new team mate in the adjacent garage and an entirely new dynamic within the team. De Vries was gone, Daniel Ricciardo was in. Tsunoda was now the younger, less experienced driver once more, but Ricciardo’s arrival provided him with a golden opportunity to demonstrate his growth as a driver by beating a proven grand prix winner over the rest of the season.

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Things did not start strongly. In Hungary, he was out-qualified by Ricciardo and finished 15 seconds behind him in the race. He fared much better at Spa, claiming his third point of the season, but when the second half of the season began at Zandvoort, Ricciardo’s broken hand meant he now had a third different team mate, albeit one he knew well from the junior categories: Liam Lawson.

Yuki Tsunoda, Liam Lawson, AlphaTauri, Suzuka, 2023
Later team mates gave Tsunoda more competition
Again, Tsunoda was initially overshadowed by a driver who had stepped into his team’s other car at short notice. While Lawson kept his nose clean on debut in difficult conditions, Tsunoda seemed to be wanting to fight with anyone who dared come near him, earning multiple investigations from the stewards in a scrappy display. Lawson took all the attention again at Monza, but only because a power unit problem on the formation lap meant Tsunoda failed to take the start despite having qualified a promising 11th. Yet more frustration was to follow in Singapore, as while Lawson drove AlphaTauri to their best finish of the season in ninth, Tsunoda’s qualifying session was spoilt by Max Verstappen before Sergio Perez assaulted him on opening lap of the race, effectively ending his evening early.

AlphaTauri were sitting dead last in the constructors championship but the team were pushing extremely hard to introduce a late raft of upgrades in a desperate bid to avoid staying there. Thankfully, the work at the factory translated onto the track and Tsunoda made an immediate impact at Circuit of the Americas by finishing tenth, which became eighth following two post-race disqualifications for cars ahead. He could not follow the returned Ricciardo into Q3 the next weekend in Mexico thanks to a grid penalty for a fifth power unit, but he played the team game in qualifying to help tow his team mate.

Tsunoda was not always at his best during this critical part of the season, however. He showed poor awareness during the race in Mexico, where Ricciardo shone, by turning into Oscar Piastri and losing several places as a result. He looked uncomfortable throughout the Las Vegas Grand Prix weekend and could not match Ricciardo on a weekend when AlphaTauri did not get their car dialled in.

Yuki Tsunoda

GP start620
GP finish8 (x2)19

However, he also pulled out some of his best weekends of the season in the final rounds too. He scored in both the sprint race and the grand prix at Interlagos, despite losing a place from an unforced error in the early laps.

But the final round of the season in Abu Dhabi, when his team needed him at his best in their fight to snatch seventh place from Williams, may have been the best performance of his grand prix career. He thumped Ricciardo in qualifying to secure a top ten start, ran an aggressive one-stop strategy that saw him lead his first laps in Formula 1 and then held off Lewis Hamilton in the closing laps to finish a very strong eighth.

Having made another step forward as a driver in 2023, it’s understandable while he’s been given a chance to remain a Racing Bull for next season. But with Perez’s seat looking vulnerable, Tsunoda’s mission for 2024 is simply to make sure he can beat Ricciardo over an entire season.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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9 comments on “2023 Formula 1 driver rankings #14: Yuki Tsunoda”

  1. Would have rated Yuki a bit higher than this. Especially in his first and last part of the season he had some great races – all those 11th places with a dog of a car at the start of the year and later in the season some great races under intense scrutiny once Ricciardo and Lawson joined. I think Yuki had a more intense and therefore better season than a.o. Hulkenberg, Bottas – I wouldn’t be surprised if he more often than not takes the measure of Ricciardo next season, leaving Red Bull with some serious head scratching to do (and probably keeping Perez as a teammate for Max).

  2. Quite harsh rating and analysis. Zandvoort had some horrendous strategy from AT which left Yuki out to dry, hence the defensive driving. Spain Yuki had fantastic racecraft yet Zhou cried wolf and he lost points. Mexico, Yuki was closing in on Daniel and would probably have beat him had he not had a power unit penalty. Definitely do not rate Hulkenberg nor Bottas above Yuki this year. Ridiculous

  3. Robert Henning
    15th December 2023, 9:10

    These ratings are getting bad really soon. Tsunoda was obviously better than Bottas Hulk and maybe even George.

  4. Given his teammates this year, it’s hard to judge the performance. Based on the previous two years, Tsunoda is often nowhere near maximising the performance of the car. That his ill-fated rookie, another mid-season rookie, and a previously dumped and then injured teammates didn’t pull clear from him is quite understandable, but not necessarily an endorsement of his performance.

    That Red Bull holds on to Tsunoda after being comprehensively outpaced by Gasly for multiple seasons, who was himself dumped from the first two Red Bull cars, shows it doesn’t really matter what he does. His seat is guaranteed so long as Honda can’t find another Japanese driver.

    1. However, I’m not sure it’s fully about the nationality that they keep tsunoda, if I had to pick a driver to keep based on this season’s performance it would be indeed tsunoda, and the ranking reflects that.

      1. The AlphaTauri line-up in 2022 was underrated. They both impressed this season with new teammates.

  5. Quite harsh but still somehow fair. I have to admit I have become a fan of him this season. He does remind me a little bit of Jean Alesi, though on a lower level: fast and passionate, but sometimes… You can only shake your head. Mexico was a great example. He was so fast that weekend and ruined it with that stupid collision.
    Still, having the choice between him, Bottas Hülkenberg and maybe even the Renault pair I’d go for Tsunoda.

  6. Yuki was definitely the top10 drivers this year. He got 3 P11 and 3 P10 when the car was not at its best. He would have definitely scored points in Monza and Singapore. Also unlucky in Monaco where he was going to end P9 before the brake failure. He missed out in Mexico which was a shame, I do not think he has finished a race there so far. But overall it seems he is doing fine. AT has made him look worse with some strange pitstop, strategies. Even in Abu Dhabi 1 stop was not ideal when pretty much everyone were at 2stops.

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