Feature F1 Unlocked
ANALYSIS: Why AlphaTauri have opted for experience with 2024 line-up
AlphaTauri have gone for experience by naming Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo as their racing line-up for 2024. F1 Correspondent Lawrence Barretto explains why…
Tsunoda rewarded for consistent season
Tsunoda may have failed to complete a racing lap across the last two Grands Prix, but that has been a mere blip in a brilliantly consistent season that has seen the Japanese driver level up.
His Red Bull and AlphaTauri bosses had tasked him with leading the team, following Pierre Gasly’s departure to Alpine, and the 23-year-old stepped up to the plate impressively.
Tsunoda comfortably beat his first team mate Nyck de Vries, a former Formula E and Formula 2 champion, during their time together, scoring all the team’s points before the break.
He had to fight for those three points, securing them across three Grands Prix, and missed out on adding to that tally with three 11th-place finishes and a 12th. A brilliant feat considering the AlphaTauri was at times the slowest car on the grid.
Even when Ricciardo stepped in to replace De Vries for the final two races before the summer break, Tsunoda was a match for his more decorated team mate.
Tsunoda has been a different driver this year. Firstly, he’s happier and enjoying his driving more than ever. He’s less stressed during a race weekend and thus sleeps better, allowing him to extract more of his talent.
When something goes wrong, he doesn’t let that lead to a downward spiral but rather compartmentalises it – under the tutelage of renowned young driver mentor, AlphaTauri Team Principal Franz Tost – and has found a strategy that allows him to build a rhythm through a weekend and save his best performances for when it counts: on race day.
It was that form that convinced Red Bull and AlphaTauri before the summer break that the Honda-backed driver was worthy of a fourth season, but then that decision became complicated when Liam Lawson stepped in to replace the injured Ricciardo and excelled.
Tsunoda remained the favourite, but Red Bull stopped short of pressing go on a contract renewal until a couple of days before the track action got under way at Suzuka, Tsunoda’s home race, when Honda are believed to have met with Red Bull representatives and pushed to get the deal over the line.
That paved the way for a deal to be announced on Saturday in Japan. Should Ricciardo leave the team earlier than planned – the Australian is believed to be the preferred choice to replace Sergio Perez at Red Bull in the future if required – AlphaTauri have a known quantity in Tsunoda that ensures stability.
Ricciardo gets a full season deal to cap sensational return
When Ricciardo left McLaren with a year remaining on his contract, it remained unclear what his future in Formula 1 looked like.
Even when he earned a third driver role at Red Bull for 2023, a racing return seemed some time away.
But his brilliant performance in a Pirelli tyre test at Silverstone back in July, combined with his feedback and form in the simulator, convinced Red Bull that he had his mojo back.
He got back up to speed quickly in his first race back in Hungary, despite very little preparation, and showed a strong turn of pace next time out in Belgium.
Even when Ricciardo broke his hand in Zandvoort, crashing to avoid the stricken McLaren of Oscar Piastri, there remained little doubt about his future.
Red Bull had already decided that a full-time race seat at AlphaTauri in 2024 was his. In their eyes, he had earned it. In confirming this to him early, it eased the pressure on him to return and thus allow him to fully heal.
In Ricciardo, they know AlphaTauri has a driver with immense experience who will be critical in helping the team not only get up to speed for next season but make the most of a relationship that will see the team take more parts from Red Bull, which in turn should significantly improve their relative competitiveness.
He’s also fantastic for the brand and will be an attractive asset for a potential title sponsor – the team currently in talks with several companies about coming onboard next year and taking over the naming rights of the team.
The 34-year-old gets on super well with Tsunoda, the Australian already bringing the best out of the Japanese driver in their short time together, and is in the best place to sharpen his skills ready for a call-up to the works team.
Lawson misses out but is in a great place
It will take some time for Lawson to accept this, but the New Zealander is in a stronger position than he was before his super sub appearance.
Yes, he didn’t force his way into a race seat next year – but he has impressed Red Bull bosses, which is no easy feat.
They’ve renewed his role as reserve, but will ramp up his programme, bringing him to all Grands Prix next year as well as enhancing his simulator programme.
There is no doubt in their mind that should they need Lawson to step in, the 21-year-old will come in and hit the ground running. That’s a powerful asset to have.
He is first in line to step in at AlphaTauri should Ricciardo earn promotion to Red Bull, and he’s also in P1 to replace Tsunoda if he doesn’t deliver next year.
At 21, time is on his side. He’s earned admirers inside Red Bull as well as up and down the grid. So, while all but one seat is sewn up for next year, it’s all to play for in 2025 – and Lawson will almost certainly be in the conversation.
Williams have the only remaining seat
AlphaTauri’s news means there’s just one spot left on the grid for next year – and that’s over at Williams, alongside Alex Albon.
The British team have long said they are giving Logan Sargeant every chance to prove that he deserves a second season with them.
It seems like that this remains the case. That gives the American seven more races to deliver some consistency and get his first F1 points on the board.