AlphaTauri boss Franz Tost believes Yuki Tsunoda is making the progress necessary to be considered for a Red Bull seat in the near future.
Tsunoda is now in his third year in Formula 1, inheriting a defacto team leadership type role with AlphaTauri after Pierre Gasly departed the Red Bull team in order to join Alpine.
While Tsunoda was fortunate to get a second year in F1 after a troubled first season in 2021, the young Japanese driver has become a more reliable mid-field runner over the past 12 months – to the point where his current team boss believes Tsunoda may become a contender for a Red Bull race seat.
With AlphaTauri used as a proving ground for Red Bull’s young talent, Tsunoda’s form has earned the praise of Franz Tost, with the Austrian saying his team’s current lack of speed can’t detract from his driver’s step up in performance.
“Yuki drove two extremely strong races so far,” Tost told Sport1 in the run-up to the Australian Grand Prix weekend.
“I am very happy with him. It’s not his fault that we aren’t competitive yet.”
With Sergio Perez under contract at the senior team until the end of 2024, Tost believes it’s a case of keeping an upward trajectory over the course of the next 18 months and then Tsunoda should be ready to make the jump up to Red Bull.
“As far as I know, Sergio Perez still has a contract for next year,” Tost said.
“All I can say is that Yuki is on the right track. He has improved in every respect. But I think he should drive at AlphaTauri again in 2024. In 2025, I think he will finally be ready for Red Bull.”
Tsunoda scored his first point of 2023 at last weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, but was actually on course for a much stronger result until the final red flag was shown – the AlphaTauri driver having kept his nose clean and making a terrific final restart.
“I mean, without the red flag I score points in P5,” he said.
“These things happened behind myself after I passed Pierre [Gasly], so even without the incident I was having a P5. So it mega sucked after the red flag, a mega shame – I’ve been frustrated to end up P10.”
Yuki Tsunoda will have to show a clear advantage over Nyck de Vries
The problem for Tsunoda, with almost two full seasons to go until a seat potentially opens up at Red Bull, is the fact that he’s been paired up with Nyck de Vries – a ‘rookie’ who is really anything but.
De Vries comes into the Red Bull fold already highly-rated by Helmut Marko, with the 28-year-old switching from a long-term stint with Mercedes as an F1 reserve and a full-time factory driver (and World Champion!) in Formula E.
It’s a hugely impressive C.V. that De Vries boasts, and the fact there are no open seats at Red Bull next season means he can take his time to find his feet and try asserting himself alongside Tsunoda.
Tsunoda has also lost his ‘older brother’ mentor Pierre Gasly, meaning that it’s all entirely on the Japanese driver’s shoulders to bear the pressure that De Vries will no doubt put on him as the Dutch driver chases the opportunity of teaming up alongside his compatriot Max Verstappen at the senior team.
A lot of pieces need to fall correctly for Tsunoda – Perez needs to be moving aside, for whatever reason, and Tsunoda must have shown a clear advantage over De Vries over a sustained length of time to be given the nod. It’s a big ask, and the ultimate test of whether Tsunoda has truly matured and learned from his tricky start to life in F1.