This weekend in Mexico did not go well for 21-year-old Alpha Tauri racer Yuki Tsunoda. With a grid penalty looming over his head before qualifying even began, he did the best he could to get up into Q3 and give teammate Pierre Gasly a nice tow down the long front straight, but he was lambasted on social media for allegedly scuppering the flying laps of Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen. In the race he was mired in the mid-field and punted several feet into the air as he was tagged from behind at the first corner.
The 2020 Formula 2 sensation deserves better than this.
The Red Bull driver program has a long history of bringing up young kids to drive their cars and grinding them to pulp before shipping them off to DTM or whatever. Between Christian Horner and Franz Tost at the helm of the two Red Bull owned teams, and Helmut Marko as advisor to both, management has never been particularly driver friendly. That’s how gentle souls like Alex Albon get kicked out of the sport for a year to drive GT3s and incorrigible asshats like Max Verstappen get promoted to the top of the game.
I really don’t want to see this happen to Yuki. The kid seems like a perfect racer for the modern age. He’s smart and funny, he’s good with the fans, and he delivers excellent pull quotes. It’s clear he has a lot of talent, and has been an absolute star at some points of the 2021 season, despite heavy pressure from above, a totally new corporate culture, and getting absolutely shit on in the press by the very people who are in charge of his future.
If you don’t know the story of this weekend yet, I’ll give you the brief. In qualifying Tsunoda set his lap early in the session and Alpha Tauri sent him out to give Gasly a tow for his fast lap. Once he served that purpose, he slowed and prepared to re-enter the pits. As he was on a slow lap, the rest of the field was attempting to set their times. In wanting to avoid slowing Perez and Verstappen he went to the outside runoff area of a tricky set of high-speed corners. This threw up a cloud of dust, which distracted Perez and caused Verstappen to lift thinking there would perhaps be a caution flag.
Here’s the thing, neither driver was setting fast enough laps to improve their times anyway. When Horner said that his drivers were “Tsunoda’d” in qualifying, perhaps he should be concerned with his own drivers who apparently get distracted by a dust cloud on their attempt at pole. When Verstappen called fellow Red Bull drivers “stupid idiot” over the radio without even knowing what the situation was, I’m sure that didn’t feel great for Yuki, but it only served to make Max look even more of a dipshit in my eyes.
My point is, Formula One needs drivers like Yuki. He’s got a contract for 2022, and I hope the Red Bull meat grinder doesn’t kill his spirit. There might be a championship caliber driver under there if he is allowed to mature and learn rather than get curbstomped by the heavy boot of Big Fizzy Drink Racing.