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ANALYSIS: Why RB have locked down Tsunoda, why he was overlooked by Red Bull, and what the move means for Ricciardo

F1 Correspondent & Presenter

Lawrence Barretto
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In the hour before qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix, RB announced they have taken up an option to secure Yuki Tsunoda for 2025. F1 Correspondent Lawrence Barretto explains why the Italian team have opted to extend the 24-year-old’s stay...

Tsunoda has been one of the stars of the season so far, the Japanese driver emerging as a team leader and consistently outperforming his more decorated team mate Daniel Ricciardo.

READ MORE: Tsunoda to stay as RB driver for 2025 with latest seat on the grid confirmed

He’s scored points in five of the last six races, contributing 19 of RB’s 24 points tally, and sits P10 in the drivers’ standings – quite a feat given they are often the sixth-best team.

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Tsunoda made his F1 debut with the then-named AlphaTauri back in 2021

Tsunoda has really kicked on this season. Last year, there were peaks of performance but he lacked consistency. This season, he’s had both – aided by an enhanced pre-race weekend preparation that has allowed him to be on the pace from the first practice session and then build confidence through the weekend.

This has not been lost on RB senior management.

READ MORE: RB boss Bayer hails Tsunoda for ‘big step forward’ in 2024

“Steps like the ones Yuki has been making this year, I’ve never seen them so often,” RB boss Laurent Mekies told me when we chatted in his office on Thursday in Montreal. “I am a big believer that drivers do make steps if they are in the right environment.

“I have been fortunate in my life to witness that in so many champions. They progress and they get faster, and faster again. What Yuki has done now in his fourth year – you expect these steps to come early in the career, but on his fourth year, to make such a huge leap is credit to him. It’s putting him on a very serious map of the top guys out there.”

MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JUNE 08: Yuki Tsunoda of Japan driving the (22) Visa Cash App RB VCARB 01 on

Tsunoda has impressed in 2024, reaching Q3 six times and scoring five times from eight Grands Prix

Tsunoda’s confidence soaring

Tsunoda has levelled up off-track this year, too. He carries himself differently and is more confident. And he’s found a way to manage his infamous red mist moments. But he’s matured in those areas while retaining his loveable, charming, funny character.

His relocation to Faenza a couple of years ago, a move which was mandated by former boss Franz Tost, is paying huge dividends. He’s more focused and spends a huge amount of time with the team. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that he’s built really strong bonds with his colleagues – and has become a hugely popular member of the team.

READ MORE: Vowles says two drivers in contention for final Williams seat in 2025 as he praises ‘incredible’ Sainz

“If you were asking us what is stopping us from sleeping right now, it would be the responsibility we feel in trying to make sure Yuki has the right environment to do more steps,” he said.

“Because who are we to know that it’s the last one? We don’t think it’s the last one. We think there may be a lot more to come, and that would put him on a crazy trajectory.

“So, our responsibility is to make sure we keep him in the right mindset, in the right spirit and with the right environment, so he can continue to develop.”

Getting to know Yuki Tsunoda

Tsunoda courting interest up and down the paddock

Tsunoda’s form this season may have been overlooked by Red Bull, who opted to keep Sergio Perez for another season in 2025 alongside three-time world champion Max Verstappen. But he has earned immense admiration from those inside his team – particularly Mekies and CEO Peter Bayer – but also elsewhere on the grid.

Sources say Sauber/Audi were interested in exploring a partnership in the future, with American team Haas also a potential landing spot. That interest shows how much Tsunoda’s stock has risen this season.

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With interest from outside, the Red Bull family saw no reason to wait to extend the option and thus moved to prolong his stay. It is believed that there are mechanisms in the contract that include options for him to stay beyond the end of 2025, so keen are Red Bull to keep Tsunoda as an option for the future.

That might sound odd, given they overlooked him for Perez for 2025. But who knows what will happen in the future? If Verstappen were to leave before his contract expires at the end of 2028, and Tsunoda maintains his ‘crazy’ – as Mekies put it – trajectory, who is to say Red Bull wouldn’t promote the Japanese driver?

MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JUNE 07: Yuki Tsunoda of Japan and Visa Cash App RB arrives into the Paddock

Several rival teams are believed to have shown an interest in Tsunoda amid his strong form

And what about Ricciardo?

When one driver is announced, the obvious follow up question is what is happening with the other seat.

Ricciardo is having a challenging season. But even if the results haven’t shown it, the Australian is making progress. It’s just slow going.

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“It is fair to say Daniel wasn’t happy with his feeling with the car from early in the season,” said Mekies. “It has hurt him in terms of how he could push to the limit in the way he wants to do it. It took us a few races to figure out what were the main points that were slowing him down.

“We have done a good pass with him, we could see from race three to now, every race there has been a bit of a step forward. We think he’s on the right direction. It’s something he is rational about. I think the season is better than it looks and we are working hard to make it work.”

MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JUNE 07: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Visa Cash App RB talks with Laurent

While Tsunoda has been confirmed at RB for 2025, Ricciardo’s future is yet to be settled

Sources say Red Bull are supportive of giving Ricciardo the time to get to the level they know he is capable of, and thus they are giving him every opportunity to show he deserves to have his option taken up for next year.

That makes him favourite to retain his seat, providing he gets faster. The obvious alternative is reserve Liam Lawson, who delivered a superb performance as a stand-in for Ricciardo when the Australian was injured last year.

READ MORE: Famin explains Ocon’s exit from Alpine and responds to Canadian GP ‘punishment’ rumours

With that in mind, Red Bull and RB can afford to give Ricciardo time to prove his worth to the team.

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