ANALYSIS: Why Red Bull promoted Tsunoda to Formula 1 – and what now for Kvyat?
Yuki Tsunoda will become the first Japanese driver to race in Formula 1 since Kamui Kobayashi back in 2014 after signing a deal to race for AlphaTauri in 2021. We answer the key questions around his promotion…
How did the promotion come about?
Yuki Tsunoda has been on a trajectory for F1 for less than two years, the Honda and Red Bull backed driver coming over to Europe to prove he had what it takes to compete at the highest level of motorsport after impressing in his native Japan.
Red Bull Motorsport Adviser Helmut Marko rated him highly and monitored his progress closely. When it became clear the Red Bull Junior programme was looking a little lean, he moved to accelerate some of the most talented youngsters’ programmes.
Tsunoda was one of them. He settled in with ease when they started embedding him in AlphaTauri, first for a test in a 2018-spec car after the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola.
His feedback and speed impressed the team, as did his command of English as he quickly began building relationships with the mechanics. That test was the final sign-off from a team side. All they now needed was for him to get a Super Licence. And he didn’t let them down, a third-place finish in F2 easily enough to qualify.
Then it was a case of letting the season come to a close and allowing him to drive the 2020 AlphaTauri in the end-of-season test at Abu Dhabi before making the decision public on Wednesday.
What is Tsunoda’s background?
The 20-year-old has been backed by Honda from 2016, becoming a member of the Honda Formula Dream Project and subsequently making his single-seater debut in the F4 Japanese Championship.
He won that championship in 2018 and then moved to Europe, joining the Red Bull Junior programme as part of Honda’s closer relationship with the energy drinks manufacturer in F1.
Tsunoda dovetailed campaigns in Formula 3 and Euroformula Open, showing a striking consistency and flair for race management that earned him a promotion to F2 with Carlin.
He ended the year with seven podiums, which included three victories, to finish third behind champion Mick Schumacher and Callum Illot, paving the way for him to step up to F1. F4 to F3 to F2 and finally F1 in four seasons - a rapid ascent.
What can we expect from him in F1?
Much depends on the speed of the AlphaTauri, but given the rules are relatively stable from this year to next, the Italian team will be a regular contender for points and right in the thick of the midfield battle.
With that in mind, Tsunoda will be given time to settle in, with the target of matching team mate Gasly and scoring points regularly in the second half of the season.
The aim is to promote him to the Red Bull senior team once he has enough experience. With Alex Albon struggling this year, and few options of young talent in the pool ready for promotion, there will be a desire for Tsunoda to adapt quickly and give them options.
Did they consider anyone else?
No. Tsunoda was the first choice and they would have only looked elsewhere if the Japanese driver had failed to get his Super Licence and disappointed when integrating with AlphaTauri.
2020 driver Daniil Kvyat was their fallback option but there was reasonable confidence across Red Bull and Honda that Tsunoda would get the job done – and that confidence turned out to be well founded.
What now for Kvyat?
Kvyat is without a drive for 2021, but the Russian is assessing options to work with F1 teams in a reserve, development or simulator capacity. He did the latter for Ferrari in 2018, when on the sidelines, before returning with Toro Rosso for a third spell in 2019.
The Russian is understood to have unfinished business with F1, particularly after his strong end to the 2020 campaign – which included a fourth at Imola – and has tasked his manager Nicholas Tost with finding him a race seat for 2022, when the new rules are introduced.