The first green flag of the 2023 Formula 1 season isn’t even close to being waved, but already there are two drivers who are staring down severe pressure. AlphaTauri’s line-up of Yuki Tsunoda and Nyck de Vries already have targets on their backs, and at least one is likely to depart at the end of next year.
Since the inception of Red Bull’s sister team, it has successfully offered opportunities to junior drivers. Often ruthless, those who falter exit F1 almost as quickly as they arrived – but those who succeed go on to find greatness.
Sebastian Vettel is the perfect example of this, as he forged a career in F1 that stands as one of the most successful of all time after being nurtured by the Red Bull Junior Team for several years.
Max Verstappen is also on his way to emulating the German driver (although Verstappen was never truly part of the academy before his promotion to Toro Rosso in 2015).
Verstappen’s promotion to Red Bull in 2016 gave them a foundation for the future due to his obvious speed and young age. Each season he has grown from strength to strength and his prowess has been evident in the last two years, winning back-to-back F1 titles.
With a contract in place until the 2028 season, it is clear that Verstappen is Red Bull’s centrepiece for the next several years – and that could play on the minds of those who are offered a drive at the leading Milton Keynes-based squad.
Red Bull has not promoted a driver from its sister squad since Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon took turns during the 2019 season alongside Verstappen. Both were ultimately deemed failures, and although both drivers have now found stability elsewhere on the grid, it places heavy pressure on Red Bull’s next promotion from AlphaTauri.
Currently, it has several young and evidently talented juniors in its ranks. It’s these juniors that will place heavy pressure on Tsunoda and de Vries heading into the 2024 campaign.
Unless Tsunoda displays notable improvement and shows valuable leadership in 2023, it is likely that he will be dropped at the end of the year. The Japanese driver has shown strong flashes at times during his two F1 seasons, but his recklessness and hot-headed nature have got the better of him on multiple occasions.
He boasts more F1 experience than de Vries, but the 2019 Formula 2 Champion has jumped from category to category to display his adaptability – his respectable F1 debut at Monza was also an indication that de Vries is a fast learner, placing extra expectation on his back for his maiden season.
De Vries will be given some room, as is the case with all rookies, and it may be a situation that his experience and age (he will be 28 when the 2023 season gets underway) will prove to be a valuable asset to the team in light of Gasly’s departure.
Formula 2 and Formula 3 have been littered with Red Bull juniors over the last several years, but arguably 2023 will see its strongest line-up for some time.
There may well be a number of F1-ready talents come the end of the 2022 F2 season, who will jump at the chance to prove themselves in F1. These include Isack Hadjar, who had an impressive maiden F3 campaign. The Frenchman will race in F2 this year, as will Zane Maloney, who was the most recent addition to the academy.
Maloney also enjoyed a strong maiden F3 season, and could be considered the front-runner for an AlphaTauri drive if his impressive form translates over to F2. Red Bull hasn’t been afraid in the past to promote a driver to F1 after a maiden F2 campaign (Tsunoda being the most recent example).
But if they do want a more tenured driver, it has options in Ayumu Iwasa and Enzo Fittipaldi, who finished fifth and eighth respectively in last year’s F2 Championship.
There also exists a scenario that Red Bull opts to bring in two rookies at once, something it did in 2015 with Verstappen and Carlos Sainz and 2018 with Gasly and Brendon Hartley (although the latter two gained race experience toward the end of 2017).
Regardless, Red Bull is not short of options for its junior team going forward, which has been an issue in the past. It places a mountain of pressure on AlphaTauri incumbents Tsunoda and de Vries to deliver – otherwise they face an unforgiving hand that shoves them out of the F1 door.
This opinion article originally appeared in issue 497 of our weekly digital motorsport magazine, Motorsport Monday. Completely free to read with no sign-up necessary, Motorsport Monday is published every Monday morning and is packed full of motorsport content. Check out the latest issue here.
You’ve missed their most likely option for 2024 should he perform in 2023. LIAM lawson.
Liam performed admirably in 2022 f2 despite the worst luck imaginable. They appear to be putting him through the same regime as they did Pierre Gasly, having moved gim to Super formula for the 2023 season, which is considered the 2nd fastest single seater competition in the world, faster even than indycar. Thus us far better prep than F2 for someone who has already done 2 seasons there, and should Liam perform there, and Yuki doesn’t do enough, Liam will almost certainly be promoted to the Alpha Tauri seat for 2024.
It’s also worth noting, Red Bull still are aligned with Honda for their power train, albeit without the Honda badge officially being on the vehicle. Yukis seat was in part, given to him for the fact he is a Japanese driver, to further satisfy Honda for.their involvement.
Given Yuki hast performed brilliantly so far, if Liam performs well in the Japanese competition, under the power of a Honda engine, shifting Liam to formula 1 in place if Yuki would probably help satisfy Honda, given the following from Japan he would bring with him having performed well there, (assuming he does)