The incredible performance of Liam Lawson during his time at Scuderia AlphaTauri has left those in charge with a fascinating dilemma.
With two seats on offer, they have three viable candidates for them; Lawson, Daniel Ricciardo, and Yuki Tsunoda.
Ricciardo is (of course) currently injured. He won’t race in Japan this weekend, instead he is continuing his rehab at home in Perth.
The aim, it seems, is to have him back for Qatar.
Tsunoda (meanwhile) is the constant at the Faenza operation, having now been there for three seasons.
He’s a known quantity and bristles with talent. There are suggestions he will be confirmed by Scuderia AlphaTauri as soon as this weekend.
And there’s some logic to that. Tsunoda is Japanese, as is engine supplier Honda. It adds a nice bit of local flavour to what would already be significant news as far as the driver market goes.
That’s because, realistically, it is only the identity of the two Scuderia AlphaTauri drivers for next year that we are waiting for – Logan Sargeant will be retained by Williams for another year.
So that leaves the likes of Helmut Marko (Red Bull driver advisor), Franz Tost (Scuderia AlphaTauri team principal), and Peter Beyer (Scuderia AlphaTauri CEO) with a tough decision because three into two doesn’t go.
It is difficult to imagine Ricciardo missing out. He has the unwavering support of Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner, is an excellent known quantity, and brings experience to a team that could desperately do with some.
Add to that the body language from his camp, which is very comfortable with the current situation – and the same is true of the Red Bull side of that equation. There is no pressure because this year doesn’t matter, 2024 does.
By that logic, we can probably put Ricciardo in one of the two Scuderia AlphaTauris next season, leaving us a shootout between Tsunoda and Lawson.
The suggestion that Tsunoda will be announced this weekend is sound.
He’s proven he can deliver points and is capable of mixing it with the midfield in Formula 1. We don’t know much more than that purely because he’s never had the equipment to show us those skills.
But it’s also curious that he speaks highly of the input Ricciardo and Lawson have had on the Scuderia AlphaTauri package as it begins to improve.
It could be him being a team player, or it could be a sign that he is not a driver capable of building the team the way it needs to be – something we have seen from Ricciardo.
And if that’s the case, what value is he to Red Bull? Retaining Ricciardo for 2024 is a signal that Tsunoda hasn’t entirely convinced the top brass that he is THE man for the job once Sergio Perez’s contract expires at the end of next season.
If that’s the case, has Tsunoda run his course with Red Bull? It’s not a team that typically offers free rides, as evidenced by Nyck de Vries.
There, once it became apparent there was no Red Bull Racing future for the Dutchman, he was ousted in favour of Ricciardo.
It was brutal, even by Red Bull standards, but that is the nature of professional motorsport.
What does that then say of Tsunoda, especially given the context of Lawson?
The New Zealander has been a loyal servant of Red Bull for a number of years; doing as he’s been asked and toeing the company line. He’s proved his loyalty and earned his shot.
And he’s made the most of it.
Not only does he look the part in the F1 paddock, he’s looked the part on the track.
He was sublime in Zandvoort, excellent in Monza, and delivered on a whole different level in Singapore. Three races, three top-drawer performances.
It is precisely what Red Bull looks for in a driver; the ability to not only operate but perform at a high level. To be cool and calm about it. To own it.
Three races in, all of that can be said of Lawson. But three years in, I still hold reservations about Tsunoda.
That is not to say he is a bad or undeserving driver, he has got where he is on merit and is good enough for F1, but is he now as good as Lawson could be in three years?
It’s an incredibly difficult one to predict, but the early signs point to the Kiwi.
Of course, there are reports Tsunoda will be named as a Scuderia AlphaTauri driver for 2024 this weekend, but don’t be surprised if that doesn’t happen.
Last year, he was only confirmed over the United States Grand Prix, and his 2022 deal was confirmed over the Italian Grand Prix weekend.
It will be curious to watch develop, with Lawson perhaps the most invested of all.