Does Daniel Ricciardo simply have to wait for Yuki Tsunoda implosion in Red Bull shootout?

Thomas Maher
Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda at the 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix.

Yuki Tsunoda is fast talking himself out of a chance at Red Bull Racing, if he can't get his temper under control.

Since entering F1, Yuki Tsunoda’s infamous temper has held him back, and it appears the 23-year-old has finally reached that same conclusion.

In a sport filled with bland soundbites from PR-savvy drivers, Yuki Tsunoda proved a breath of fresh air when he showed up with plenty of speed and a briefcase full of fury. But that fury reared its head in ugly fashion once again in Bahrain, and it now threatens Tsunoda’s entire future within Red Bull.

A contrite Yuki Tsunoda concedes ‘heated moment in the brain’

In the closing stages of the Bahrain Grand Prix, Tsunoda was quickly caught by Daniel Ricciardo as the pair had embarked on differing strategies for the final stint. With the Japanese driver on hards, Ricciardo had taken on soft tyres and was clearly the quicker driver as the pair caught Kevin Magnussen and Zhou Guanyu on track.

But, with Tsunoda unable to make progress quickly enough, he was ordered aside to allow Ricciardo a pop at them – only to angrily snap back at his team when told to concede position. It took over a lap for Tsunoda to allow Ricciardo past, with the Australian then not having enough time to try getting past the two drivers in front.

Worse, Tsunoda couldn’t get his temper under control as he steamed past his team-mate into Turn 7, all locked up under braking. With a bemused Ricciardo looking alongside him, Tsunoda accelerated past his team-mate with an aggressive mismatch of speed, making his feelings clear that he hadn’t cooled down one iota since being instructed aside.

It was during the post-race media sessions that Tsunoda seemed to start understanding that he had made a bit of a boo-boo with his unwarranted aggression and, in Saudi Arabia, the Japanese driver looked like a schoolboy after being told off by the headmaster as he was grilled on the topic.

Confirming that he and Ricciardo had spoken afterward and are “unified and on the same page”, he admitted that “In the moment, I was a bit heated. I was quite getting heating moments in my brain. But yeah, I still, in the end, let him through, probably a lap later or half a lap later. So probably that was the thing. So in the end, the team thought they had more chance, and I respect that, yeah.”

There’s no question that Tsunoda has improved significantly as a driver since his calamitous first season in 2021 – he’s a solid midfield driver who shows plenty of speed and potential. But he’s reaching the crux point in his career, now in his fourth season at the ‘junior’ Red Bull team.

Red Bull doesn’t usually show this sort of patience and, if rumour is to be believed, Tsunoda was already on borrowed time coming into 2024 as Honda allegedly intervened to save his seat as the impressive Liam Lawson was the preferred option alongside Ricciardo.

With Sergio Perez not confirmed for 2025, there’s a genuine chance that whichever RB driver performs more strongly this year will be a leading contender to step into the senior squad next year – and it’s created an uneasy dynamic for Ricciardo and Tsunoda as both aim to improve their prospects for next season, while also working alongside each other to unlock more speed from the VCARB01.

Given that dynamic, and the carrot being dangled in front of them, it’s completely understandable that Tsunoda would therefore be resistant to playing ball and allowing Ricciardo to fight for a glory finish. Understandable, but not justified, and losing his head at the ‘unfairness’ of the moment showcased the exact quality that has held Tsunoda back from making the progress needed to become a hot prospect.

“It’s the thing I have to improve for sure,” he conceded on Wednesday in Saudi Arabia, when asked why Red Bull would want to sign a driver who can’t control his emotions.

“And yeah, I mean, if I do those things again, for sure, it will be more issues. And I know these are things I have to improve mainly. So yeah, I’m working on it. And yes, I’ll show improve (sic).

“Need more than two steps, you know, not just like one step, for example. And I have confidence that I can prove that. And it’s up to them if they want me or not, I think, for the rest of the things. But yeah, mainly focusing on those self-controllers. Other than that, I have pretty good confidence. I’m achieving most of it, and I just keep improving.”

Daniel Ricciardo’s realisation of optics

In the other car, Ricciardo said and did all the right things to come out of the situation smelling of roses. Unlikely to have finished ahead of Tsunoda without the team’s intervention, the Australian had had a tricky qualifying in which he fully admitted he hadn’t driven at his best.

But the requirements of Red Bull for 2025 are to find someone who can provide calm and capable support for Max Verstappen (assuming…), and a driver who can provide excellent marketability – boxes that Ricciardo ticks more than Tsunoda does.

“We talked, personally, privately, doors closed, very openly, and transparently. It was the right thing for us to do and we left Saturday night feeling like it’s done,” Ricciardo said in Saudi Arabia ahead of the weekend, having labelled Tsunoda’s actions as ‘immaturity’ leaving Bahrain.

With far more experience than Tsunoda, including having handled tricky team-mate relationships in the past, the Australian has clearly identified that keeping his head and saying the right things could play directly into his hands – all he has to do is let his fiery team-mate self-destruct his way out of any chance of a promotion.

“I said a few things. But I tried to also stop myself, because I know everything gets broadcast and I knew it was something that we would discuss once the helmet’s off and the heart rate has come down a little,” said Ricciardo, showcasing the wisdom of over a decade in the sport.

“But I think the team handled it really well after the race in terms of getting us together, making sure that nothing was left on the table, or there was no more… I think the team handled us very well.” recommends

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With RB going through growing pains with a new leadership team in Peter Bayer and Laurent Mekies, Ricciardo also identified the need and responsibility for him and Tsunoda to help everyone get bedded in and comfortable as quickly as possible.

“No one’s going to benefit from us having a rivalry or tension or anything like this from race one of a long season, especially when the team has new personnel – everyone’s trying to pick each other up and build themselves in the confidence,” he said.

“We need to help them do that as well. What happened at the end of the race wasn’t great but actually, two hours later, how we walked out of that meeting actually put the team in a better place than it was on Saturday morning.

“It was very calm, it was very composed, no pointing fingers. It was just, ‘Let’s talk about this’.

“So we know that, when we leave this room, we feel a lot better about it and know that we go to Saudi with absolutely no hangover or whatever from this little incident. So that was good.”

Ricciardo has thus come out of what should have been a very minor incident looking like the mature and confident team leader, with Tsunoda appearing petulant and out of control – a big win for Ricciardo in what looks like being a 24-race shoot-out for the possibility of replacing Perez.

Tsunoda’s small advantage is that he unquestionably has the speed to succeed, and he seems to have finally realised that getting a handle on his emotions this year could potentially decide his future.

Having opted for contrition and holding his hands up for losing his head, it’s not too late for the Japanese driver to turn things around – as he admitted on Wednesday.

“It’s still a learning process and probably what I showed on Saturday, but I just keep reminding myself just before I jump into the car, ‘not pressing radio’, but also like, just those things, I think also they love to pick myself, to be honest, in those radio [messages],” he said.

“Yeah, I mean, I’m not that shouting, you know, like that looks in the radio, on the TV. I don’t know, the more I say, it’s getting worse. So I’m just going to say I’ll just try my best to improve. And you’ll see it on the track from these races onwards.”

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