In appreciation of Yuki Tsunoda

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Following round eight of this year’s bumper Formula One calendar, Yuki Tsunoda sits tenth in the drivers’ standings. His performances have drawn praise from across the paddock but ahead of silly season, his seat for 2025 is far from certain.

Only some of the highly coveted twenty seats for next season have contracted drivers occupying them, and even that may not be a guarantee for some. Visa Cash App RB, Tsunoda’s current team, are one of three teams to have no drivers contracted to them yet next season, along with Alpine and Haas.

Formerly known as Alpha Tauri, and Toro Rosso prior to that, VCARB comfortably occupy 6th place in the Constructors’ Championship, and can claim to be a true mid-table competitor for the first time since 2021, Tsunoda’s first season with the team.

VCARB can claim to be a true mid-table competitor for the first time since 2021

In that rookie season, the experienced Frenchman Pierre Gasly claimed the bulk of the team’s points, and Tsunoda was wheeled out as the comic figure, consistently swearing at engineers and himself over team radio and performing below expectations. Three years later and Tsunoda remains the second biggest name in the team. This time behind Daniel Ricciardo.

The Honey Badger is into his fourth consecutive season of underperformance. Perversely, 24 year-old Tsunoda now plays the role of level-headed stalwart, whilst 34 year-old Ricciardo has cut a frustrated figure and has struggled to pick up points. Tsunoda has done so on four occasions, even finishing in seventh in Australia and Miami.

Such is Tsunoda’s consistency, little has been made of his maximisation of car potential. Now understated, the Japanese draws less attention to himself than in his formative Formula One years, when he was dangerously close to losing his seat, most likely for good in the sport. Liam Lawson is an ominous presence as the VCARB reserve driver, as his stellar showing towards the end of the 2023 season piled pressure on Tsunoda and Ricciardo. He was furious at being denied a seat this year, and will be apoplectic if overlooked once more. He deserves a seat.

Perversely, 24 year-old Tsunoda now plays the role of level-headed stalwart, whilst 34 year-old Ricciardo has cut a frustrated figure

Due to the nature of VCARB being Red Bull’s inferior team, the seat will be one of the least sought after on the grid, as the team have arguably the lowest ceiling of any franchise. Towards the front of the grid, Red Bull’s second seat has become somewhat of a poisoned chalice. The highly-publicised departure of esteemed engineer Adrian Newey and media storm surrounding Team Principal Christian Horner has reduced what should be the entire F1 drivers pool to a selection of aspirational drivers. Promoting within the Red Bull system may be the best way forward if the team look to replace Sergio Perez in the coming years, as it could well transpire that other suitors such as Carlos Sainz will seek alternative seats to avoid controversy.

This way, I see it as likely Tsunoda could find himself as number two to Max Verstappen (should he stay) in the future. He deserves a promotion for his consistent performances at VCARB, and Ricciardo’s stint at the Austria-based team from 2014-17 makes him no more likely to claim the seat, as he has demonstrated his ceiling in an elite team.

I think it’s time to accept the Honey Badger is beyond his best, and give the Japanese pocket rocket his flowers that have taken so long to come.

Image: Lukas Raich via Wikimedia Commons

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