Yuki Tsunoda follows a long line of drivers that have debuted for Red Bull’s sister team AlphaTauri (previously Toro Rosso) since its inception in 2006. Tsunoda impressed with a run to ninth at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix last month, but how does his drive stack up against former debutants for the Faenza-based team? MotorsportWeek.com takes a look.
Tsunoda wasn’t the first Red Bull protégé to debut in Bahrain – 15 years ago Scott Speed stepped up, having also placed third in Formula 2, then known as GP2. At the 2006 event, which marked Toro Rosso’s debut as a constructor, Speed endured something of an anonymous maiden outing – albeit with the squad significantly less competitive than it is now. Speed bested the likes of Kimi Raikkonen and Ralf Schumacher, who had problems, to qualify 16th, and in race trim, he crossed the line 13th, a lap down on victor Fernando Alonso.
Qualifying: 16th Race: 13th
After taking four straight Champ Car titles in the mid-2000s, Bourdais joined Toro Rosso for the 2008 season. During qualifying at the season-opening event in Australia, it was the sister car driven by Sebastian Vettel that starred, as the German advanced to Q3 while Bourdais was eliminated in Q1. However, in an incident-filled race, in which just seven cars reached the chequered flag, Bourdais climbed as high as fourth. He looked on course for fourth but he too became a victim of the crazy race as an engine failure halted him with just three laps left – though still took home points after officially classifying in seventh.
Qualifying: 18th Race: 7th
Following a stint in GP2, Buemi advanced to F1 with Toro Rosso in 2009. In his opening qualifying session, the Swiss driver was eliminated in Q1, but advanced up a number of positions due to penalties for his competitors. In the race, he continued to move forward and was running inside the top 10. A late race safety car following a crash for Vettel and Robert Kubica ensured that Buemi was on course for eighth, which turned into seventh when Lewis Hamilton was later disqualified for misleading the stewards.
Qualifying: 16th Race: 7th
Alguersuari became the youngest driver to start a grand prix aged 19 years and 125 days when he replaced Bourdais at Toro Rosso at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix. In an event that was overshadowed by a crash that ruled out Felipe Massa for the remainder of the season, Alguersuari qualified in 20th, after suffering a hydraulic issue during the session. Despite his lack of experience behind the wheel of an F1 car prior to the weekend, Alguersuari produced a mature drive in the race, coming home in 15th, and doing so ahead of team-mate Buemi.
Qualifying: 20th Race: 15th
Vergne was the first Toro Rosso debutant in two and a half years when he was signed for 2012, arriving in the sport having just missed out on the Formula Renault 3.5 Series to Robert Wickens, a former Red Bull junior. The Frenchman narrowly missed out on a spot in Q3 to team-mate Daniel Ricciardo in Melbourne and had a scare at the start after making contact with Mark Webber at Turn 1, avoiding terminal damage. He was in the hunt for debut points and looked on course to achieve just that. However, during a last lap tussle between himself, Ricciardo and Paul di Resta, it was the debutant who was the loser, dropping from ninth to 11th in the final sector, missing out on a championship point by 0.111s.
Qualifying: 11th Race: 11th
As F1’s new turbo-hybrid era began in 2014, Kvyat was thrust into the sport from GP3 success, skipping the intermediary step entirely. A mixed-weather qualifying session in Australia facilitated Russia’s second ever F1 driver to advance into Q3 to line up eighth on the starting grid, despite a spin and a touch with the wall during the session. McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen stole the show on debut by taking a podium while further back Kvyat stayed out of trouble to cross the line tenth, three seconds behind team-mate Vergne. That later became ninth when Ricciardo was excluded.
Qualifying: 8th Race: 9th
At 17 years and 166 days, Verstappen smashed the youngest starter record when he made his first outing in Australia in 2015. The Dutchman missed out on a spot in Q3 by a tenth of a second, and started the race in 12th. While running in ninth place mid-way through the race, Verstappen suffered a power unit issue and was forced to retire, but nevertheless impressed given his rapid rise to the premier single-seater series.
Qualifying: 12th Race: Retired
Sainz made his F1 debut in the same race as Verstappen, producing an exemplary qualifying to line-up in seventh, and was promoted one position when Valtteri Bottas failed to start due to a back injury. A strong opening sequence left him fifth on the road, however faster cars behind soon began to put him in their mirrors. A slow pit stop interrupted his smooth weekend, but the Spaniard benefitted from retirements to take ninth place for Toro Rosso.
Qualifying: 7th Race: 9th
With Kvyat dropped from the team (for the first time), Gasly stepped in to replace him at the 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix following on from his GP2 title success the year before. On Saturday, Gasly claimed 15th spot as his own, ending Q2 a tenth and a half behind team-mate Sainz. A low-key race followed for Gasly, who crossed the line in 14th after completing 55 laps.
Qualifying: 15th Race: 14th
Two races after Gasly made his debut, Hartley was drafted in to replace the Frenchman at the US Grand Prix, as Gasly returned to Japan for the ultimately-abandoned Super Formula finale. Hartley, a former Red Bull junior, had not driven a single-seater for five years and was thrust into the deep end for his F1 debut. The sportscar veteran was eliminated in Q1 and inherited engine penalties that saw him line-up on the back row of the grid. He nonetheless kept his nose clean during the race and crossed the line in 13th, and was swiftly signed by the team for the 2018 campaign.
Qualifying: 18th Race: 13th
Red Bull’s lack of readily available F1 talent in their young driver pool prompted it to call up Alexander Albon to replace Hartley for the 2019 campaign. Albon, another former junior, joined returnee Kvyat at Toro Rosso and arrived in F1 having originally agreed a deal to compete in Formula E. He put a practice crash behind him and out-paced Kvyat in qualifying, setting himself up for a 13th place start. A processional grand prix followed, with the Anglo-Thai ending up 14th at the chequered flag.
Qualifying: 13th Race: 14th
NB – While Vitantonio Liuzzi, Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo all raced for Toro Rosso, they each made their F1 debuts elsewhere.