Why Red Bull were too quick to blame Tsunoda over their spoiled Q3 laps

2021 Mexico City Grand Prix

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Red Bull team principal Christian Horner made it abundantly clear who he felt was to blame after both his drivers had to abandon their final flying laps in qualifying.

“We got Tsunoda’d,” he summed up, laying the blame solely at the feet of Yuki Tsunoda, the rookie Red Bull brought into Formula 1 this year with its junior team AlphaTauri. But were Red Bull too hasty to point the finger at Tsunoda for spoiling Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez’s laps?

Perez, the first of the two Red Bull drivers to catch Tsunoda, claimed he shouldn’t even have been in Q3. After all, Tsunoda had been given a grid penalty for a power unit change which forced him to start at the back. Why, then, had AlphaTauri planned for him to reach Q3, given that it would make little difference to his starting position, when dropping out in Q2 would have allowed him to start on fresh tyres instead of used ones?

The principal reason was that having Tsunoda in Q3 meant he could be used to give a slipstream to Pierre Gasly, and improve his chances of a good qualifying position. In this Tsunoda performed his job perfectly: Gasly took fifth on the grid, which is realistically the best he can hope for. “We are the first team behind Red Bull and Mercedes and the fifth position is for us like a pole position,” said AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2021
Perez said Tsunoda shouldn’t have been running in Q3
AlphaTauri weren’t the only team to do this. Lando Norris, who has the same penalty as Tsunoda, also got into Q3 to give his team mate a tow.

Perez’s complaint therefore doesn’t stack up. But it’s also true that Norris managed to give Daniel Ricciardo a tow without getting into anyone’s way. Why didn’t Tsunoda do the same, and who was to blame for the fact he didn’t?

As the final Q3 runs began the Red Bull drivers were advised that two of the other cars on track were only there to give slipstreams to their team mates. They would therefore back off and not push to set quick lap times on their way back to the pits.

“Norris is towing Ricciardo, so they will come as a two,” Verstappen’s race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase advised him. “Tsunoda and Gasly also now turn three, Tsunoda towing Gasly. So I’ll treat those as one car each.”

Norris reached turn one first and pulled off-line to let Ricciardo by. The AlphaTauris were now the next cars behind him, led by Gasly, who’d just passed Tsunoda.

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McLaren gave Norris three updates on Gasly’s location as the AlphaTauri driver caught him. Norris let him go into turn seven, the first of three fast bends in the middle of the lap where there is little space to let another car past. Norris then accelerated through the following bends and was not caught by the next car behind him, belonging to Carlos Sainz Jnr, before the end of the lap.

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2021
Report: “It’s not Yuki’s fault”: AlphaTauri boss defends Tsunoda after Red Bull criticism
Further back, Tsunoda had let Sainz pass him at virtually the same spot Norris allowed Gasly by. The AlphaTauri driver had been advised “Sainz seven [seconds] behind, pushing” and duly backed off.

But his race engineer Mattia Spini hadn’t told Tsunoda there were two more cars within seven seconds of Sainz: Perez and Verstappen. By the time Tsunoda was told Perez was closing on him, he had already accelerated into the turn seven to 11 sequence.

“Perez four behind, pushing,” said Spini. “Pushing,” he added as Perez drew close. “Perez behind you,” he continued. Then, “Verstappen three behind.”

But it was too late: Tsunoda had taken to the run-off at turn 10 to let the first Red Bull past. Perez swung into turn 10, had a snap of oversteer, and headed for the run-off area where Tsunoda’s car was kicking up a plume of dust – a potentially unhelpful distraction. For a moment it looked like the Red Bull was going to plough into the AlphaTauri.

Verstappen, distracted by the cars in the run-off ahead of him, eased off, and lost his last chance to claim a place on the front row. “Ah, for fuck’s sake,” he exclaimed, “what the fuck happened there in front of me?”

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“Not quite sure,” Lambiase replied. “Tsunoda just, I don’t know, parked it, so Checo had to back out.” “Unbelievable,” Verstappen fumed. “Such a dumb idiot.”

But while Verstappen’s indignation at the AlphaTauri driver would shortly be echoed by his team principal, Tsunoda’s response to his engineer’s messages couldn’t be faulted. By the time he was warned about Perez’s Red Bull, he was at a point on the track where letting a car past without distracting them or interfering with their aerodynamics – as Perez alleged – is very difficult.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2021
Verstappen expected a yellow flag, and reacted
Verstappen, who lost pole position for the last race at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez for failing to slow down for a yellow flag, later admitted that on this occasion he backed off unnecessarily.

“You arrive so quick it’s difficult to pinpoint what’s happening,” he said. “I just saw a lot of dust, so I thought a car crashed and now with the yellow flag rules, I’ve been caught with that already here in Mexico, I backed out of it a bit.

“Then no yellow flag came so I continued pushing but of course that’s already like two-and-a-half tenths gone. So, my lap was basically finished.”

For Tsunoda’s part, he insisted he had no alternative under the circumstances. “If I had another chance I’d do the same thing,” he said. “I don’t know what else I should do.”

Should AlphaTauri have given Tsunoda earlier warning? Arguably, yes. But the stewards have raised no concerns over how the team handled the situation. There was no investigation into whether Tsunoda had impeded either of the Red Bull drivers.

Afterwards Tsunoda was initially unaware the incident had affected Verstappen as well as Perez. He was clearly shocked to learn he had potentially spoiled a qualifying lap for a driver who Tsunoda openly favours in the championship fight.

Given that, had it been one of the Mercedes drivers Tsunoda had delayed, accusations of collusion would no doubt be flying around. Instead there is obvious frustration that the one team they might have expected to stay out of their way hadn’t done so.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2021 Mexico City Grand Prix

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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22 comments on “Why Red Bull were too quick to blame Tsunoda over their spoiled Q3 laps”

  1. Okay, so indeed maybe, probably, Tsunoda could and should have been warned earlier, but he himself did nothing wrong.

    Verstappen backing out at that point was logical I think, and his outburst (while I don’t like that sort of thing, bc. things happen on track and sometimes others also don’t have much choice so err on the side of that please Max) was based on the wrong view his team provided him with; but it keeps being a Red Bull and Verstappen trait that negative initial impressions somehow tend to not be corrected but enhanced and dragged along to the future, which is really annoying and unprofessional.

  2. You would think that Horner might have checked his facts before he proceeds to shoot off his mouth but it’s all too typical I’m afraid. Any incident or ruling that affects Max is blown out of all proportion for some reason. As time goes by my respect for Horner and RBR slowly diminishes.

    Max is a great driver but I don’t think the attitude and outbursts of his team mangers, who should know better, help the way he conducts himself.

    1. @phil-f1-21 there is perhaps some precedent in the way that those at Red Bull have had a go at their junior drivers – some might think of Marko shouting abuse at Alguersuari when he got in the way of Vettel when he was simulating a qualifying run during a practice session as another example.

  3. Poor show from Horner to speak about a Redbull driver in such derogatory terms, especially given as Tsunoda didn’t even seem to do anything wrong. The last thing Yuki needs is his team boss criticising him when clearly he’s been struggling for confidence this year. Or are Redbull already ready to give up on Yuki and throw another young driver into the churner?

    1. I think it’s partly a reaction to other events rather than just this one. He held up Max for half a lap in Austin as well so I think he was already not in Horner’s good books.

    2. Agreed!

      Another ill considered Horner sound bite.

  4. Leaving the track in a run off area normally triggers a yellow flag. So it is a stupid thing to do.
    The team should have coached him better.

    1. Leaving the track deliberately in runoff areas to allow faster cars go by is a common procedure and and does not trigger yellow flags. You’ll see it all season…

      1. Leaving the track to the inside perhaps or on a straight but not directly where a car would end up if it span off. Otherwise you’d just leave stopped cars in the gravel trap for the race rather than recovering it.

        1. That would be a very sensible rule, but it’s not in place unfortunately. It’s always a bit scary when cars take to the runoff at turn 1 in Monza with other cars approaching at 350 k. But they do allow it…

        2. @petebaldwin the comparison does have some flaws to it, as there is a difference between a driver moving into a tarmac covered run off, where they are likely to be able to continue driving if they still have power, and a gravel trap, where a driver would be a lot more likely to become stuck even if they still have power.

          In the latter case, a yellow flag is more likely to be deployed and would probably be deployed more quickly, as it is a higher risk environment – so, it is certainly fair to question the assertion that there would have been an automatic yellow flag for Tsunoda being off the track, because that isn’t always automatic (and, in this case, there were no yellow flags at any point during that incident).

          Unfortunately, there do seem to be those who are determined to bash Tsunoda and to use him as a figure to vent their frustrations against, and he’s become an easy target to blame here.

  5. Both Horner and Wolff often act so entitled. Wolff criticized Russell for not treating Bottas like a temmate, and Horner is essentially doing the same with Tsunoda here.

  6. So Tsunoda apparently took the ideal action in regards to Sainz but was then in a “bad” track position in regards to the Red Bulls since the team only warned him when they were closer (Perez at 4s and Verstappen at 7s, in Max’s case the same difference as Sainz). It seems Tsunoda did his best to literally get out of the way and it seems that there was no other alternative (as he was not aware sooner nor he had the time to accelerate)…

    But I do admit that going out of the track, even on purpose, could always lead to yellow flags so there was also the potential. But seeing that there were actually no flags (even though 2 cars went off and Perez was fairly close to Tsunoda), Tsunoda’s decision seems to have been the less risky one at that moment.

    After reading this article I believe that only the race engineer (team) could have prevented this by informing earlier about the Red Bulls being close behind Sainz, Tsunoda could have “parked” the car in a safer position…

    1. There should have been yellow flags – not for Tsunoda who left the track intentionally, but for Perez who went off at high speed.

      1. Definitely strange that no yellow flags were shown when Perez went off, as from what I recall both cars were close to each other at one point.

  7. Still, the only error he made was where he attempted to let by the RBs.

  8. Wasn’t Tsunoda’s fault. Did what he could to give the Red Bull’s a clean run. Then again I don’t think Horner’s outright blaming him either, it was just unfortunate. To be honest if you want to blame anyone I’d blame Perez – looks to me like he got distracted and followed Tsunoda off.

    1. @rocketpanda From Checo’s onboard it looks like Yuki was moving back towards the racing line with a dust/smoke trail behind him. Checo aborted and went behind Yuki to avoid what seemed like a collision. It didnt seem like he was distracted at all. Max also aborted when he saw both cars off in the middle of those high speed corners.

      That is such a dumb spot to let someone pass that no one had pulled that move the entire weekend.

  9. If RedBull wanted a clear track without interruptions they had the option to go first. Their greed for a double tow was their downfall. Martin Brundle called it perfectly stating that they were taking a risk following other cars just a minute beforehand.

  10. The circuit is such that where there is an incident ahead, cars will drive off line. Im guessing both Checo and Verstappen thought this when they followed Tsunoda actions. This means not only did the engineer fail to inform Tsunoda of the approaching Drivers, but those drivers Checo and Max should have been forewarned of the slowing Tsunoda ahead of them.

    As for Hornor, he should have had all the facts before laying blame so openly. Whilst we now have this report, alot of the causal Max supporters wont have this information to inform their criticism of Tsunoda.

  11. Conclusion, RB were not too quick to blame Tsunoda. Very clear from the chain of events why this happened, it happens. Who knows starting p3 and p4 might work out even better.

  12. Horner and Red Bull are always blaming others for mistakes which are of their own doing!!! They believe they are ‘God’s gift to F1’ and that no other driver has a right to be own track. Every driver has a right to try and qualify as high up the Grid as possible even if they do have penalties, because it determines where you start when there are lots of cars in same situation. So, I am slowly losing my patience with with this culture of lets blame everyone else for our own mistakes. Man up and admit you made a mistake Horner and take it on the chin.

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