Is Red Bull trapping the F1 driver it refuses to promote?

Carlos Sainz wasn't the only Formula 1 driver whose contract Red Bull refused to give Sergio Perez a contract extension. One of her own was also overlooked.

It looks like Yuki Tsunoda can do little to force his way into the Red Bull Racing accounts, based on an increasingly impressive body of work at sister team RB that has gone unnoticed.

Perez's new deal was merely confirmation of that fact, as Tsunoda – like team-mate Daniel Ricciardo – resigned himself to accepting that the promised land was still a long way off. Although Tsunoda is comprehensively ahead of Ricciardo, who also starts 2024 with big plans to push Perez for that seat alongside Max Verstappen.

Red Bull's lack of interest in considering Tsunoda for its main team goes so far as to refuse to promote him. Which is totally fine in a way. Red Bull is under no obligation to make Tsunoda Verstappen his teammate. As much as this is not in keeping with the second team's DNA of training drivers for the first team, it has been said for some time that Red Bull wants RB to become a stronger entity in its own right.

The problem is that it leaves Tsunoda trapped. He doesn't have a realistic future at Red Bull that he ultimately wants to race for. He is of interest to several competing teams, with Haas, Alpine and even Sauber/Audi believed to have considered the Japanese driver among their options for 2025 – but it is understood Red Bull has an option it could use to keep Tsunoda for next season.

So, even if Tsunoda is someone else's main target and wants to leave, he won't be able to do so without Red Bull's permission. Helmut Marko's claim to Klein Zeitung that Tsunoda is “ready” for 2025 may indicate that Red Bull, as it stands, have no intention of letting him go.

And on Thursday during the Canadian Grand Prix, Tsunoda did not sound like someone was aware of the plan – saying only “I hope we can have a formal discussion” and stressing that he had not signed anything himself.

“I definitely feel more supported,” he said of Marco's comments.

“usually [earning Red Bull’s faith] It's at the end of the season – which is making me a lot older, to be honest! These past three years have been difficult.

“It's a bit different this season, so it's good, and it means I can commit more. Hopefully, these things will come out soon, clearly, in any way.”

Tsunoda will likely find himself in the same situation as his former teammate and friend Pierre Gasly, who had a contract option with Red Bull activated while he was at AlphaTauri – only for Red Bull to later accept a buyout deal from Alpine to sign him. Marko/Red Bull's play might be to keep Tsunoda under contract to release him if one of their suitors is willing to pay for the privilege.

But in the short term, staying where he is won't be the end of the world for Tsunoda. At the moment, it is clear that the right-back is better than any club he could move to. He has an affection for Red Bull, which has supported him for a long time, and displays a clear sense of loyalty. Tsunoda has stressed several times now that Red Bull is his first priority in securing his future “as soon as possible”.

“This year has been a lot different,” he added. “I've got several options from others and it's good that I'm able to increase my value as well.

“Especially in such an interesting driver market, I wanted to feel safe to focus on the rest of the racing.

“The priority is Red Bull, to make sure we're on the same page, because Red Bull is part of my life and without them I wouldn't be able to do it.” [even] achieve this much.”

But life at RB comes with a performance ceiling, he would like to believe otherwise, and he will lose Honda engines in 2026 – with Honda being a major backer of Tsunoda.

This is not a particularly desirable team for a driver with ambitions to stay indefinitely, and it doesn't look like a practical team in the long term either.

The hardest part for Tsunoda is that he clearly doesn't want to give up all hope of getting a seat at Red Bull one day. He knows, or at least believes, that this is his only realistic chance of having the best drive in Formula 1 – at least for a good while.

Even if Tsunoda is not quite at the level required to command a seat at Formula 1's top table, he certainly deserves more credit for his performance and clear advantage over Ricciardo – whose career revival alongside Tsunoda has stalled – compared to last year. Uncertainty, waiting to make choices or not.

He even hinted at it in Montreal when he suggested interest from other teams could be something that leads to a new type of Red Bull deal with greater commitment.

“I hope Red Bull understands more or sees more of my potential and my performance, and maybe that can change in the future,” he said.

“I would like to see more commitment from them in the contract. I am already committed to Red Bull a lot and I hope I can add more commitment from them.

“I'm happy with the Red Bull family. This year will probably be an interesting year and hopefully some value from others will make room to negotiate something with them.

Whatever the case may be, Tsunoda is doing too well to remain stuck in the kind of career limbo that seems to be at risk, just as his stock in the driver market has reached an all-time high.


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