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Mekies says RB need to see Tsunoda 'take the next step' in fourth F1 season

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 08: Yuki Tsunoda of Japan and Visa Cash App RB prepares to drive in

RB boss Laurent Mekies admits that the team are looking for Yuki Tsunoda to take the “next step” in 2024 to prove that he is continuing to develop all-round as a driver, with team mate Daniel Ricciardo acting as a “fantastic reference point”.

Tsunoda is now in his fourth season in Formula 1, having made his debut with the squad – then known as AlphaTauri – back in 2021. The Japanese driver has displayed signs of progress since then, and provided a steady presence at RB in 2023 amid changes on the other side of the garage following the early exit of team mate Nyck de Vries.

READ MORE: Tsunoda admits he needs to control his emotions to be considered for Red Bull promotion after Ricciardo spat

Speaking to F1’s Beyond The Grid podcast, Mekies voiced his hopes that – with Tsunoda now racing alongside the experienced Ricciardo – the 23-year-old can build on his abilities further.

“It's fantastic in the way we are evaluating Yuki, the way we are trying to grow Yuki, to have Daniel with him,” Mekies explained. “It gives a fantastic reference point and, therefore, for us, it's as good as it gets to have the experience and the speed of Daniel, to have the raw speed and youth of Yuki.

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 09: Laurent Mekies, Team Principal of Visa Cash App RB speaks to Yuki

Mekies is looking to see if Tsunoda can take the "next step" in 2024

“What we are looking for from Yuki is that he does that next step. The top guys, they make steps. They come and understand something more about the tyres, they will be able to go faster in given situations.

“The core feelings they have in the car, how they link what they feel in the car with what they exchange with their engineers, how deep the relationship they can build with the team is. If you have the bandwidth for that, your understanding of the car increases.

READ MORE: ‘A bit of immaturity’ – Ricciardo vents after post-chequered flag squabble with team mate Tsunoda in Bahrain

“If you have the capacity to utilise it when you’re driving then you will go faster. Yuki is growing this capacity year after year and this is why there is still speed to come. He has been surprising the F1 world every single year. He's in the fourth year. Is he going to keep surprising? That's the question we have to answer.”

As for Ricciardo, the Australian arrived into the team off the back of a difficult spell in his career, having faced two tough seasons with McLaren in 2021 and 2022. However, Mekies feels that this experience may have benefitted Ricciardo in terms of his current mindset.

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“You see Daniel, you have the first couple of days of running with him and you see the race-winning guy, so I guess the Daniel we have now is the best Daniel we have seen,” said Mekies. “Of course, he has had a rough patch in the last few years but, ironically, it's probably putting him now in the best mindset, in the best spirit, with the best energy.

“He has these incredible technical sensitivities. He’s buying into the project, he's living RB with us, he’s proud of the colours, he’s pushing us with all the positives that we all know about him. I think, in the start of a project like that, having a guy like Daniel with us driving the car, it’s just a game changer.

READ MORE: RB drivers rue lack of pace after slipping backwards during ‘pretty painful weekend’ in Saudi Arabia

“This has increased the attention levels that we have in making sure that we have the right conditions around him. We are very careful with him and he's part of the process. He's driving that process in making sure that we put him in the right spot in the car, outside of the car, and how we manage his energy.”

To listen to Beyond The Grid, simply hit go on the audio player above or click here to listen via your preferred podcasting platform.

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