Red-hot Yuki Tsunoda making a mockery of unfair Honda appeasement insult

Sam Cooper
Yuki Tsunoda

Yuki Tsunoda has beaten Daniel Ricciardo in every quali so far this season.

Yuki Tsunoda’s links with Honda have often unfairly labelled him as a checkbox to keep the Japanese company happy.

He joined their academy in 2016 and when the Japanese supplier began building Red Bull’s engine, he also became a part of the Milton Keynes side’s young driver programme.

From there, he was on a course to get to Formula 1 and become the first Japanese driver since Kamui Kobayashi.

For a motorsport-mad nation, there have been relatively few Japanese drivers to ever make it to the F1 grid. A total of 21 have taken part in an F1 event with just 18 involved in a race so, with one of the country’s largest brands behind him, there were plenty of eyes on Tsunoda’s rise up the ranks.

By the time he reached F1 and the AlphaTauri seat in 2021, there were already many preconceived ideas about him. His broken English coupled with a tendency to get hot under the collar quicker than tyre rubber at 200mph saw him produce some of the more memorable radio quotes during his rookie season.

That rookie season was characterised by speed at times, but mainly because of three retirements and being soundly beaten by the experienced Pierre Gasly alongside him.

But it has been three years since that first foray and for some, Tsunoda has never shaken off that petulant label. He is of course still capable of an outburst, as are all drivers, but confirmation bias can have you believing he has made little progress since his first year in the sport.

However, a more objective look at history would suggest Tsunoda has become more than just a Honda appeasement tool.

Once Gasly had moved on, an opponent Tsunoda himself admitted he became too focused on, the Japanese driver made light work of Nyck de Vries. While that is no major benchmark to measure a driver against, Tsunoda finished the first five races of 2022 no further back than 11th, twice ending in the points.

As the face alongside him changed time and time again, Tsunoda put in a consistent run of performances to end 14th in the standings in an AlphaTauri car that was frankly no good for half of the season.

And yet, still many see him as a political pawn between Red Bull and Honda. Eddie Jordan said as much, promising that Tsunoda was there “to keep Honda happy.”

“Let’s be clear, Tsunoda is in the team he’s in because Toro Rosso – or call them what you want – [but] Red Bull, as a family, they need to keep Honda happy,” he recently told the Formula for Success podcast.

“And that is a Honda request. I can promise you that’s the way it is.”

Jordan may or may not have been told that by someone associated with the team but to dismiss Tsunoda as such is harsh given his now proven ability.

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Heading into 2024, Tsunoda was thought of as the outside bet for the 2025 Red Bull seat. To many, it was Daniel Ricciardo’s in all but name and Sergio Perez was in second place before Tsunoda in a distant third.

Now though, the Japanese driver looks far more likely than Ricciardo to ever make it to the Red Bull promised land.

A slow start in the Middle East with an RB car that promised more than it delivered was overcome with a P7 in Australia, Tsunoda’s best result in two years. He came within an Oscar Piastri shaped whisker of topping a practice session in front of his home crowd and in qualifying at Suzuka, Tsunoda once again showed he is performing at a higher level than Ricciardo is.

It was Tsunoda after all who put the final nail in Ricciardo’s Q2 coffin and he will start ahead of his team-mate for the fourth time in as many races on Sunday.

Realistically, Tsunoda will probably never make it to the Red Bull seat with some other external names appearing ahead of him in the pecking order – but that is not a death knell on his F1 career.

Honda moves over to Aston Martin in 2026, making a Tsunoda swap an obvious link, but if he continues on the same trajectory, he would make a valuable addition to most teams.

Tsunoda may never be a World Champion, he may never even win a race but it is time to start appreciating him as a fine Formula 1 driver.

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