2021 F1 driver rankings #19: Yuki Tsunoda

2021 F1 driver rankings

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Yuki Tsunoda bookended his first Formula 1 campaign with the kind of performances which made it obvious why AlphaTauri have kept the faith in their latest newcomer.

Yuki Tsunoda

Beat team mate in qualifying1/20
Beat team mate in race3/16
Races finished18/22
Laps spent ahead of team mate185/963
Qualifying margin+0.53s
Points32

But in between his points-scoring F1 debut in Bahrain, and signing off with a career-best fourth place in Abu Dhabi, there were many moments in which the team’s patience must have been tested by the Formula 2 graduate.

The number 22 AT02 crunched the barriers in qualifying at Imola and Paul Ricard in Q1, and again in Baku, though on that occasion he had reached Q3 for the first time. In total Tsunoda dropped out in Q1 – something which never happened to his team mate – eight times.

The aggravation this caused him early in the season was plain to see, notably at Circuit de Catalunya where he was critical of his car after failing to reach Q2. His frustrations tended to boil over on the radio.

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Imola, 2021
Tsunoda came down with a bump after early Bahrain high
His season began to improve later in the year with the guidance of one of his predecessors at the team, Alexander Albon. When the stars aligned, Tsunoda made occasional forays into the points. That qualifying effort in Baku led to seventh at the flag, and he capitalised on a day of retirements in Hungary to follow Gasly home in sixth place, despite a time-sapping spin.

But the regularity with which Gasly collected pointed reflected badly on Tsunoda. No driver took a smaller percentage of their team’s points haul. To be fair, no other driver was a rookie paired with an experienced racer, but we can only assess Tsunoda on the basis of the available results.

These might have been better without a few costly errors in races. He collected penalties for crossing the pit lane entry line in the Austrian Grand Prix (which was somewhat peculiar, as he’d raced on the track a week earlier) and spun at Istanbul after exhausting his tyres trying to keep Lewis Hamilton behind in the early stages.

As Tsunoda’s qualifying performances improved over the latter races, and with AlphaTauri locked in a contest with Alpine for fifth in the championship, the stakes rose when it came to wheel-to-wheel scraps for position. Some of his moves were on the rash side: He collided with Lance Stroll in Bahrain and was involved in a pair of incidents during the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

It came good in the last race of the season where, though arguably aided by the controversial restart arrangement, Tsunoda pounced on Valtteri Bottas to snatch fourth place on the final lap. The opportunistic move delivered a fully-deserved reward at the end of a season which on the whole had been very trying, but at least brought the promise of better days ahead.

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What’s your verdict on Yuki Tsunoda’s 2021 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than? Have your say in the comments. Add your views on the other drivers in the comments.

2021 F1 season review

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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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50 comments on “2021 F1 driver rankings #19: Yuki Tsunoda”

  1. Tsunoda in 19th was a bit of a surprise to me. But then, I guess a lot depends on how we rate the progress Latifi has made this year, on how to rate Mick Schumacher. And on where you see Kimi and then Giovannazzis performance relative to that.

    Not convinced yet, but I am open to being convinced this is where Yuki’s rookie season rates in the competetive order once I see more of those you rated higher.

    1. Not sure why this position surprises you.
      He was 19th mid season (you seemed to agree) and I haven’t seen a drop off in Latifi (he crawled even closer to Russell) and Schumacher is on a steeper learning curve IMO.
      I know Kimi didn’t have his best season, but he (and Giovanazzi) is still well ahead of what Yuki showed over a full season.

      1. I do think that in the last say 4 races Yuki showed some decent progress jff. But maybe you are right and I just did not think too much about where he was the first half of the year.

        1. I agree, I think Yuki definitely was better in the last 4 races. I think he’ll really need to step up more consistently next season though.

    2. Tsunoda under-delivered massively for most of the season with a VERY competitive car in his hands.
      19th is fair enough.

      1. Agree, I’ve also been very critical of tsunoda, he improved lately but wouldn’t be fair to rank latifi ahead considering he was decent with a far worse car.

      2. To rank him ahead of latifi*

  2. If you can only use the guy in the other car to measure a driver’s level, it’s clear RaceFans is right putting Yuki at 19th. When top-10 drivers selected by themselves was published, it was a little surprise to see Mick there, but if you think about that it’s obvious that, if you have to use the intra-team battle, he should obviously be ranked in the top-10.

    Yuki was far behind his teammate and he is the main reason AlphaTauri didn’t finish in P5. Obviously, he’s a rookie and he’s been promoted every year, so this is the first time he stays in Europe in the same category for a second season: Faenza was right by extending his contract and i’m sure he’ll do better in 2022.

    1. Mick also had one of the highest amount of crashes this year, despite driving in a vacuum (far behind those ahead of him, and ahead of his teammate), I doubt that he will make top-15 here

  3. Oddly harsh. Don’t think Latifi and Stroll had better seasons, if you factor in (in)experience.

    1. Why should experience be part of a performance ranking?

      It wouldn’t be fair to put Kimi in 20th just ahead of Alonso and Hamilton :P

    2. I would agree Tsunoda was a massive disappointment especially considering the expectations from his resume before F1, but I think to be ranked 19th is still harsh, even if we disregard (in)experience.

      Not only when compared to Latifi and Stroll, I would even argue you could consider Raikkonen, Givonazzi or even Ricciardo.

      To be clear I’m not saying all these should be behind him but one could make an argument they had a more disappointing season, disregarding experience/reputation.

      And not a hater of any of them before someone would say I’m biased, massively love Raikkonen and sad to see him go even it was definitely time for him to leave and would love to see Ricciardo to succeed too, to me he’s the most likeable character in F1 today

    3. +1

      While he had many lows he also had enough highs to convince me that there’s talent there, more so than Latifi, Stroll, Gio or Mick. Agree that he’s better than Mazepin though!

      1. Ambrogio Isgro
        5th January 2022, 2:12

        Well, I guess it’s easier to show some flashes of talent when you are in a better car than the others you mentioned.

  4. Yuki’s rookie season was significantly better than this ranking of 19th suggests, to me. There are clearly tracks that suit his style and those that don’t and I would have liked to see how he would do at Spa and Suzuka as I expect they would suit him similar to Bahrain and Abu Dhabi and he has won in both venues in the lower echelons.

    He has not been in receipt of a ton of good luck this year with poor weather at spa, reliability at Zandvort and then the failure to start at monza putting a crimp in what otherwise looked like steadily improving form in the preceding races and the break in concentration, or lack of experience in dealing with such set backs, put paid to all the form gained from Spain’s retirement onwards. I also think that, given his age, the length of the season and all the triple / double headers wore him out.

    He will return stronger and more experienced as there were flashes of incredible talent during the season and times when he out drove Gasly. If the AT03 turns out to be a competent car, they will have a very strong line up unless Gasly has a confidence crisis.

  5. Checo cannot be much higher up this ranking given his thorough trouncing.

    1. He will probably be just outside the top 10, along with bottas.

  6. I do think 2022 is make or break for Yuki. Hasn’t yet shown anything that shows he has the potential to fill a vacant Red Bull seat (which is kind of the point of AT drivers), so if he doesn’t deliver this season, I think he’ll be replaced by a suitable Red Bull junior or Alex Albon.

    1. This. Not great performances plus a poor attitude. He could get dropped in a year.

      1. Would disagree on no highs, he had some flashes of brilliance (although way too few)

        But would highly agree second part and thanks for reminding, his attitude (from what we can see and hear at least) may be an even bigger problem.

        If a driver is a diamond in the rough with some flashes of brilliance and many mistakes (and some forgettable races) with great attitude still has a lot of potential, like Vettel in 2008 at Torro Rosso comes to mind.

        But if Yuki’s attitude is as bad as it seems I don’t see him having a long term future in F1 regardless of raw talent

  7. That’s pretty brutal.

    Yuki made a lot of errors in his rookie season, but also delivered a few stellar moments and had a genuinely good finish.
    Certainly better than at least Latifi.

  8. Peak Yuki has seemed a lot better than 19th. But those peaks have been rare.

    19th is harsh, I’d potentially place him ahead of Latifi, Giovinazzi, Raikonnen, Schumacher and Stroll. All of whom have had unremarkable seasons at best.

    1. I think you are clearly factoring in car performance too much, since the Alpha Tauri was at times the third best car and sixth best at worst. Meanwhile everyone else you listed except Stroll never had such a car (and once Stroll had such a car his tyre failed)

    2. He had a far better car than all those you mentioned bar stroll, yours feels like a “car helps you” ranking, we’re trying to make a performance ranking based on drivers having the same car.

  9. I agree with this ranking of Yuki Tsunoda in 19th. Despite an impressive Abu Dhabi weekend, he was a long way behind Pierre Gasly almost every weekend, and also had a lot of crashes. Alpha Tauri had the fifth-best car (or ninth/tenth best-car) this season, but only finished sixth in the constructors’ championship, because Tsunoda finished fourteenth. In race points, he scored 32 to Gasly’s 110, and if the championship was done by qualifying, he would have 27 points to Gasly’s 168.
    Latifi by comparison was far closer to George Russell, and crashed less often, while Mick Schumacher crashed as much as Tsunoda but clearly outpaced his teammate who was fairly good in F2, and also had impressive moments, although with an all-rookie lineup it is difficult to judge how good the Haas actually was.
    I agree that the team were right to keep him on, as there is potential there, but he will have to improve in 2022 to keep his drive.

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      5th January 2022, 8:12

      @f1frog

      I think your comment sums up what I was going to say against many of the others. 19th is pretty realistic, and I don’t really understand why many would rank Latifi below him. If Russell is that good, Latifi in reality should be higher than 19th. I think I would rate him above Kimi and one or two others probably.

      Many also criticize Mazepin for crashing when it has been his team mate that has done considerably more damage to his car than any other driver which should also question his placement for the rankings.

  10. I loved Yuki in F2 and really wanted him to do well, but Alpha Tauri just surely have been resentful of the Red Bull hierarchy for not just putting Albon back in the seat. This was especially highlighted when they got him to coach Yuki in the latter half of the season, and it paid off. Imagine the results that could’ve achieved in that car with Albon and Gasly – they could’ve cut out the middle man and ended the season with as much bigger points haul. More than anything, it just shows the short sightedness of Red Bull and their willingness to cut off their nose to spite their face at any given moment.

    1. @elyndys19 Yes, RB could’ve merely replaced Kvyat with Albon, although nothing wrong in giving Yuki a chance.
      Last season was, after all, better for debuting than next season would’ve been via largely stable technical rules versus considerable changes.

      1. I agree, I think it probably did look worth a punt when they gave him the seat, but I think it was more about forcing through new drivers rather than moving yet another driver back down to the B team and losing even more face. They desperately wanted to seem like they have fresh talent coming through in spades, even though that’s clearly no longer true.

    2. So not a Red Bull fan then..

      1. Can’t say I am, no, not after the way they’ve treated most of their drivers over the past few years. They’ve not exactly had a dignified couple of seasons, even if they’ve succeeded on the technical front – the media-facing side of the team just seem more determined than ever to turn themselves into pantomime villains.

    3. cut out the middle man

      ;)

  11. The disappointment list isn’t long but Tsunoda is a valued member.
    But from those in the list I think he has best potential along with Ricciardo. In the last 7 years we have had a streak of impressive rookies and Tsunoda isn’t among them but surely he is no Stroll or Mazepin. That being said I’d put him 17th.

  12. A little bit harsh but I wouldn’t have put him higher than 17th anyway.

    What I appreciate about Yuki’s season is how quickly RB/AT renewed his contract despite his shaky form. They’ve been far too harsh to judge drivers in the past, and he clearly has potential, so that vote of confidence definitely had an effect on his late-season performances. Though with Lawson, Vips and Daruvula all in with a shot of a 2023 seat he’d want to do much better next year!

  13. Even if it’s clear that Yuki has raw speed and that he improved mentally after Albons coaching started, his win or wall attitude and lack of maturity played against on him. His radio outbursts on first half off the season showed how he wasn’t mentally ready to cope with pressure and his lows were much more pronounced than his highs. To make matters worse, the fact that Alpha Tauri had one of the most balanced and well rounded cars on the grid + a great performing Gasly didn’t do him no favours and extrapolated his weaknesses. It looked that he wasn’t ready yet for F1. And his lack of performance cost the team really high. Alpha Tauri should be 5th on Constructors this year, and it wasn’t only because of Yuki. I can just wonder what Albon would be able to reach in this Alpha Tauri in 2021, but Yuki for me was a letdown, and only his Honda ties and Japan market helped him have a 2nd season. Like I said in the beginning, he has speed and he can be exciting, but he will need to step up mentally and be more consistent in 2022, it will be a make or break season for him, I hope he succeeds. He’s really lucky to have a 2nd chance. If we channel his strengths correctly, and mature a bit, he can be really a good driver with a long career, it will depends on how he cope with 2022, and if Alpha Tauri produces a good car as well. A lot to play for this year for Yuki.

  14. I can’t really argue with the ranking of Yuki, at best I’d put him one position higher, but not more than that. However, contrary to Mazepin in 20th and what I assume might be Latifi in 18th, I think Yuki has more potential. It’s pretty obvious he was showing his youth and hot temper and that got in his way when he had some mishaps in the first few races, but after he got his head straight (possibly due to the guidance by Alex Albon around that time) he was definitely showing some flashes of good performance.

    Whether that will be enough to keep his seat over the vast talent that Red Bull currently has in the feeder series, I don’t know, but I can see why they’re giving him another shot next year.

  15. Rather harsh when seen as a rookie.
    Schumi made a lot more costly mistakes and can only be ranked higher in this list.
    Yuki made a decent progress during his rookie year. He certainly had the speed. Making a driver faster is almost impossible. Making him more consistent and experienced is The way to go.
    Yuki had the speed and a steap learning curve.

  16. Weirdly harsh given it’s his first year and was open about being quite unprepared. He certainly has shown mistakes that put him around Mazepin’s level but he’s also shown flashes of speed and talent that I’d say put him comfortably above Latifi, Giovinazzi & Stroll. He certainly could have done better and been more consistent, but 19th feels a very unfair representation of his performance.

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      5th January 2022, 8:35

      Also replying to erlkje above and many others questioning the fact he’s a rookie.

      @rocketpanda

      I don’t think this site has ever, and should ever consider changing the results based on who are rookies. They factor in the performance comparing all the drivers without thinking about how new they are.

      If improving the ranking should be considered based on them being rookies, then it’s a bit like saying rookies should get something like 10% extra points on what they have at the end of the season.

      I strongly disagree that he’s been better than the 3 you mention. I’d only say Latifi has been slightly better, but the other two much better. Tsunoda only looked to have 2 very solid races. The first and the last. And I think Bahrain was one of the most over rated rookie performances I’ve seen. That car I believe on that occasion was the 3rd best, and Sky thought that too based on what Gasly did in qualifying. Tsunoda got no end of praise for finishing 9th when he qualified 13th. In the race, he lost 3 places off the line and then gained from his team mate hitting his front wing and Alonso retiring. To be realistic, his finishing position was likely to be where he started which was poor for the car.

      He’s put in some good defensive moves against Hamilton and some other drivers, and his last race was impressive, but that is basically where he scored about 35% of his season’s points. Even Gasly’s win wasn’t worth 25% of his season’s total.

      I think 19th is very realistic.

      1. I would argue judging a unprepared and inexperienced rookie against a multiple world champion with multiple wins and championships under their belt is a ridiculous notion, so failing to account for experience and preparation is unfair. Each situation is nuanced, judging it coldly on face value removes that and makes an evaluation near worthless.

        I also disagree. Latifi has had several years to improve and has routinely been behind his team-mate, never showing the kind of speed Russell can get out of the Williams or the racecraft. He’s certainly had time and the investment but he has consistently lacked pace and continued to this year.

        Giovinazzi closed the gap in qualifying to Raikkonen but in the race he was still usually adrift and anonymous, prone to errors and frankly after several years of shadowing a near retirement and disinterested Raikkonen he should have been able to beat him consistently. He wasn’t, and never has.

        Stroll has arguably been the favoured son in each team he’s been in and has been in F1 far long enough to not be considered a rookie, and thus his consistent inability to get the most out of the car compared to Perez, or now to a demoralised Vettel is disappointing. He should be showing better speed by now but he’s still not, which is annoying given he clearly has the talent but isn’t bringing it out consistently.

        In all three cases you’d bet on their team-mates to bring the big points and big results home, not them. Tsunoda is no different on the face of it but as a rookie did show the flashes of speed and talent that those three have lacked. Certainly potential, and given his inexperience, what he did achieve was more impressive than what those three did in much less time to learn and develop. Also unlike them, despite a slump in the middle of the year, did appear to turn things around showing a capacity to improve and learn and be more than a mobile chicane.

        Judging based on results alone is a silly metric in a sport that wild swings can occur. On the face of that Ricciardo’s going to be much higher than he should be simply because he won 1 race, despite how poor he’s been in every other one.

  17. Jeffrey Powell
    4th January 2022, 13:43

    We will see , I think he has great potential some of his performances in F2 were meteoric I wouldn’t be surprised if he wipes the floor with Gasly in the second half of 2022.

  18. It may indeed be hard on a rookie, but he is the only candidate for 19th for whom we know for certain that his car was capable of placings far higher up the grid.

    A defensible choice, imho.

    1. Absolutely, I think underperforming with a decent car is the biggest reason for him to be there, compared to drivers who couldn’t do much more, so bad the car was.

  19. To all those who keep saying “But he’s a rookie!”, Keith has repeatedly (like, every year) said on this site that the driver rankings are based on performance alone, and that driver experience does not play a factor.

    19th is fair. Gasly may have flattered the car’s potential, but the AT02 is way better than to be going out in Q1 8 times and only scoring 32 points.

    1. Very true, I’ve seen him say that a lot of times too.

  20. At the end of the day the end of year driver ratings are based on somebodies opinion, as long as the drivers end up in the bottom 5, middle 10 and top 5 as I expect then I tend not to have may disagreements on their exact position. I don’t think anyone could argue Tsunoda wasn’t in the bottom 5 this year when taking into account how costly his mistakes were for this year and indeed next given they missed out on 5th place due to them.

  21. Five places too high!

  22. There have been worse newbies in my opinion.
    He has pulled back at least a degree of respect in the last few races.
    I’m happy to see him compete for another season and see how/if he develops.

  23. He is certainly not the next Takuma Sato. Very poor first season. One o,if not the worst first seasons of any Toro Rosso/ Alpha Tauri drivers. Others got the boot soon after. I can see him getting booted out of the team mid season this year if he can’t start to match Gasly

  24. I won a bet against a pal who was adamant during pre-season testing that he’d beat Gasly on points. That said, I think he’ll do much better this year. Probably well enough to win over those who’ve been sorely disappointed with his performance last year.

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