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Formula 1

The wildcard driver shaking up F1’s final silly season fights

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

Formula 1’s remaining seats on the 2025 grid have primarily been linked to the same usual suspects but there is a wildcard option in the mix.

Assuming Red Bull sticks with the status quo and Mercedes commits to its bold gambit of promoting Kimi Antonelli straight into its F1 team at 18, Carlos Sainz, Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly are the main candidates linked with the remaining vacancies at soon-to-be-Audi Sauber, Alpine, Williams and Haas. And it is widely expected that Sainz slots in at Audi once the doors close at Red Bull and Mercedes.

One driver who could yet play a significant role in how those final seats are dished out, though, is Yuki Tsunoda.

The RB driver is under contract at Red Bull, which is believed to have an option on his services for next season – as it does for Daniel Ricciardo. Tsunoda is performing very well. He is consistently beating Ricciardo, has led RB to sixth in the championship so far, and is Red Bull’s second-best driver on current form after Max Verstappen.

But despite that, and the fact Red Bull's still weighing up Sergio Perez’s future given he is out of contract after 2024, Tsunoda is not seriously in the picture at his employer’s senior team.

There seems little he can do to change that, which combined with principal backer Honda leaving the two Red Bull teams in 2026 to join forces with Aston Martin, means Tsunoda’s time at Red Bull has a clock on it.

Red Bull does not dismiss Tsunoda’s senior team prospects officially, and would happily keep him in RB next season given his performances on-track.

But for Tsunoda, treading water is only viable for so long. His management needs to at least consider a good medium-term alternative, and the prospect of him leaving Red Bull if he finds one now seems credible – so long as Red Bull agrees to release him, which it may well do with Liam Lawson waiting in the wings.

Tsunoda is believed to have been touted to Alpine, and be of interest to Haas, as the driver market enters a frenzied final stage. Haas seems a more serious prospect than the Renault works team, with logic on both sides.

Tsunoda would be a good fit at Haas alongside likely rookie driver Ollie Bearman, giving the American team a young, fast line-up with a respectable amount of experience from Tsunoda’s four seasons in F1. And Haas’s upward mobility in the midfield under Ayao Komatsu’s leadership makes it a perfectly legitimate option.

It's obvious that Tsunoda’s immediate preference is to stay at the team that currently has the fifth or sixth quickest car in F1, if he can, and parlay that into a Red Bull Racing seat. He said as much on Thursday in Monaco. But he also admitted that if the ultimate goal is not achievable, then he needs to assess his options.

“So far very happy,” Tsunoda said of his present team. “Now we're fighting sometimes like even P7 or P8, and probably now the top teams are pretty much taken.

“Probably we're the strongest team in the midfield at least.

“We'll see. Obviously, especially when I'm in Red Bull, you always want to aim for Red Bull [Racing].

“But if they don't want me or they're not expecting me into the seat, yeah, if I've got an interesting offer that could be better than even VCARB or Red Bull - yeah, I'll think about it.

“I also have a big loyalty to Red Bull as without them I wouldn't be here. And obviously Honda as well.

“And speaking of Honda, maybe Aston Martin, but Aston is taken by two drivers.

“It's pretty open, but so far I'm happy with VCARB.”

Tsunoda references something that could be his end goal: a Honda-backed Aston Martin seat. As he suggests, that does not look immediately available but could be in 2027 or 2028. It would be a big long-term play to commit to but if so, keeping himself in the game is vital. And it could definitely be facilitated by a move to a Haas, an Alpine or maybe even a Williams.

Those seats have ostensibly been earmarked for a Bottas or an Ocon. Both have had talks with Haas and Williams, Ocon’s team-mate Gasly seems to have had a conversation with Haas as well. Ocon and Gasly both staying at Alpine is possible, if seemingly unlikely, while Bottas is in play everywhere.

There is room for all of them to find a home on the 2025 grid. But where they end up is still very uncertain – and Tsunoda’s availability in the right circumstances is certainly a curveball to consider. 

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