Nobody caught more eyes than the youngster Yuki Tsunoda out of the three rookies who entered Formula 1 this season. After setting the second-fastest time in the pre-season test, the Japanese driver made a good start to his Formula 1 career during the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix.
Tsunoda had an impressive debut in the sport. The Japanese qualified in P13 but recovered after a sublime drive on Sunday. Yuki Tsunoda got past more experienced drivers on his way to a P9 finish. The Japanese sensation overtook the likes of Lance Stroll, Esteban Ocon and two-time world champion Fernando Alonso.
What are Red Bull's plans for Yuki Tsunoda?
Red Bull always prefer bringing drivers from their youth program to Formula 1. The team has four seats available every year. In the past, we have seen drivers like Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo seamlessly transition to Formula 1. The team also likes to promote drivers from their sister team AlphaTauri to the main team. The drivers mentioned above performed when given the chance, and became mainstays at the team for years.
However, Red Bull has a history of promoting young drivers too early. In recent seasons, this has ended badly for the team and driver. Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon are prime examples. Gasly was promoted to Red Bull prematurely and was demoted just as quick. The Frenchman landed on his feet at AlphaTauri, however, the same cannot be said for Albon. The Thai-British driver was named as Gasly's replacement at Red Bull but was dominated by Max Verstappen throughout the season. However, in Yuki Tsunoda, Red Bull's head of their driver development program, Helmut Marko, is well aware of the talent he possesses within the ranks.
In an interview with Formel.de, Helmut Marko said:
“We have an incredible rough diamond in Yuki Tsunoda. We're not going to burn him. We will look at the development and then make our decisions in a timely manner.”
There is bound to be pressure on Yuki Tsunoda's young shoulders. Red Bull only signed a one-year deal with Sergio Perez, at the end of which the Japanese sensation could see himself thrust into a seat with the A-team. When asked about the possibility of Yuki Tsunoda driving a Red Bull in 2022, Marko replied:
“We’ve had the first of 23 races, so let's see how things develop."
However, Marko was quite impressed with Perez during the Bahrain Grand Prix. When asked about Perez's performance, Marko said:
“The race speed is on the same level as Verstappen. When he was in free air, he set the same times, so so far, so good. Unfortunately, it wasn't like that in qualifying. We are convinced that he will get much closer to Max in qualifying as well.”
Yuki Tsunoda's future in Formula 1 looks bright. The youngster displayed speed, poise and racecraft on his debut at the Bahrain Grand Prix. However, what he will not enjoy is being thrust into the Red Bull seat to drive against Max Verstappen. The Dutchman has dominated all his recent teammates, and the Japanese runs the risk of a similar fate. This could break Tsunoda's confidence and lead him down the path that Kvyat and Albon have had before him. Red Bull need to avoid this at all costs, even if it means extending Perez's contract for another year.