How does Honda's Departure Impact Tsunoda's F1 Future?
Honda announced that they will be leaving Formula 1 at the end of 2021.
Today, the news broke that Honda would not be renewing their current arrangement with Red Bull and Alpha Tauri after their current partnership comes to an end following the 2021 Formula 1 season. Honda returned to Formula 1 back in 2015 with McLaren, making the switch to Red Bull/Toro Rosso for 2018 until now. In their time together, Honda and Red Bull/Alpha Tauri have won five Grand Prix together - the latest of which was Pierre Gasly's spectacular win at Monza a few weeks ago.
So whilst Red Bull must now go out and look for a new power unit supplier (Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault are currently the only three suppliers on the F1 grid but under the current rules, Renault would be obliged to supply Red Bull and Alpha Tauri with engines as they currently have the fewest customers, unless the teams can convince Mercedes or Ferrari to provide a supply), Honda's departure from Formula 1 throws up a few other big questions. Such as...
What does this mean for Tsunoda?
For those of you who don't know, Yuki Tsunoda is an up and coming Japanese driver who is currently competing in Formula 2. He's in his rookie season, having jumped into the Carlin team after racing in Formula 3 for 2019.
So far this season, Yuki has two wins to his name (from Silverstone and Spa respectively) as well as a handful of other podium finishes and sits in third in the Championship. Being a member of the Red Bull Junior Team, he naturally has ties to Formula 1 and the ambitions to make it there. With Red Bull always looking to develop new talent, Yuki has gotten a lot of attention this year as being the next driver to make the jump into Formula 1. With Honda being Red Bull's partner, it also seemed like Tsunoda coming into F1 was only a matter of time as it would keep the partnership between Red Bull and Honda in a good place and it would put a Japanese driver on the grid for the first time since Kamui Kobayashi in 2014.
Following Alpha Tauri's triumphant weekend, what does it mean for the future of both their drivers and Red Bull's?
So what are the options?
As Honda are staying in Formula 1 for 2021, their departure may not have any impact on Tsunoda's future. It's no secret that Danil Kvyat hasn't been having his best season in Formula 1 and has been bested regularly by his teammate Pierre Gasly. If Tsunoda were to make the leap into Formula 1 in 2021, it would most likely be Kvyat's seat that he would be taking. The other benefit from this would be that it breaks Red Bull's deadlock with what to do about its driver line up. As it stands, both drivers in Alpha Tauri have driven for the top team of Red Bull but have also both been demoted back down to the sister team due to disappointing results. Gasly and Kvyat both want to prove themselves and get back into Red Bull and with Albon struggling somewhat at Red Bull, it is likely that discussions have been had about this.
But if Tsunoda came into Alpha Tauri, everything would ease off - for a while at least. Gasly would be the obvious senior driver of the two and Albon would be under less pressure in Red Bull with only Gasly possibly chasing his seat. The only losing party would be Kvyat but he could potentially find a seat elsewhere on the grid or somewhere outside Formula 1.
Photo Credit: Red Bull Content Pool
Alternatively, if Honda's departure means that Tsunoda isn't guaranteed a seat in F1 for 2021, he could be pipped by the other two Red Bull Junior Drivers in Formula 2 - Juri Vips and Jehan Daruvala. Vips isn't as likely as he's only just arrived in the 2020 F2 season midway but Daruvala has been improving over the course of the season and despite his lack of podiums or wins up to now, stranger things have happened in the world of Formula 1.
This week, I make my case for why Tsunoda deserves a seat on the F1 grid.
The other option is that the current driver line up in Formula 1 stays as it is for another year with Verstappen and Albon at Red Bull and Gasly and Kvyat at Alpha Tauri. Then, without having to consider their relationship with Honda, Red Bull management can consider all three Junior F2 Junior drivers of Tsunoda, Daruvala and Vips ahead of the 2022 season with all three drivers having had two seasons of Formula 2 under their belts by then.
Another left field option comes in the form of Sergio Perez. Currently without a seat for 2021, he's been rumoured to make a move to Red Bull. Verstappen would obviously stay at the team which would mean that Albon would find himself back in the second Alpha Tauri - most likely next to Gasly. Tsunoda would then have to wait another year and get a second season of Formula 2 done before he could attempt to make the leap up again.
The final option depends upon who Red Bull replace Honda with as their power unit supplier. Whilst unlikely given how well it is performing at the moment, Ferrari could be an option which then opens up potential opportunities for their young drivers. The same goes for Mercedes and Renault. With so many up and coming drivers in Formula 2 and not enough places for them all on the F1 grid, it's tricky to know who will get the chance over someone else.
The most likely (and logical) option would be to stick with putting Tsunoda in Alpha Tauri for 2021 though. Honda aside, it still makes the most sense as he's proved himself to be an excellent driver who can get solid and consistent results - exactly the kind of thing Red Bull looks for.
What do you think will happen? Will there be any fallout for Tsunoda now that Honda have announced they're leaving Formula 1? Let me know in the comments below.