Even before his home race in Suzuka, Yuki Tsunoda was unable to solve his boss's riddle. "It hasn't been confirmed yet, but I don't know either, to be honest," said the Japanese at the drivers' press conference on Thursday about his contract situation for the coming Formula 1 season, which remains unclear.
There is a three-way battle at Alpha Tauri, said managing director Peter Bayer shortly after the sweat treatment in Singapore, describing the cut-throat competition for the two regular cockpits at the Red Bull sister team.
Tsunoda, Ricciardo, Lawson - one is too many
Tsunoda (23), in his third season at Alpha Tauri, Daniel Ricciardo (34), the replacement of the disappointing Nyck de Vries and currently only a spectator after a broken hand, and Liam Lawson (21), surprise ninth in Singapore: one of them is at Alpha Tauri too much. "Of course we have a certain idea of what it could ideally be like, but at the moment we're leaving that open," Bayer told the competitors.
Uncertainty as an incentive? Uncertainty as a motivational aid? Mick Schumacher (24) is very familiar with such employee management tools. The son of the German record world champion Michael Schumacher received similar announcements in his second and final season as a regular driver for the US team Haas. However, team boss Günther Steiner turned it into a stalling tactic. In the end, Mick Schumacher was shown the door and replaced by veteran Nico Hülkenberg (36).
No getting past Hamilton, Alonso
At Haas, the opportunity for young people turned into hope for the tried and tested. Stars of old Formula 1 age ensure that young talents are deprived of their chance to prove themselves. Lewis Hamilton (38), for example, has extended his contract with Mercedes until the end of 2025, while Aston Martin has given Fernando Alonso (42) a multi-year contract. However, the class and media appeal of the former McLaren stable rivals is beyond question: Hamilton became world champion seven times, Alonso at least twice.
Mick Schumacher has to be content with the role of substitute driver this season. Since a Formula 1 regular cockpit is highly unlikely for 2024, he is examining plan B. Alpine is said to be interested in the former Formula 2 champion - but primarily for the sports car program. Even in such a case, Mercedes would still want to trust Mick Schumacher as a reserve driver behind Hamilton and George Russell - provided Alpine could also agree to such a dual role.
Mick Schumacher's "Home Port"
Schumacher is “part of the family,” Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff recently assured. After all, father Michael spent the last three years of his career driving a Silver Arrow. Wolff emphasized that his son will always have a “home base” at Mercedes.
So in 2024 there will only be one German regular driver in Formula 1: Hülkenberg, who has already been out for three years and only had temporary jobs in the premier motorsport class.
This drought is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. There are no young Germans pushing behind Hülkenberg and Schumacher. In order to perhaps make it into the premier class of motorsport at some point, not only skill and luck but also a seven-figure sum is required. Who should be able to afford something like that?
Vettel is hoping for more commitment from the automotive industry for the next generation
“Things are looking bad for young motorsports talent in Germany,” stated four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel in an interview with the German Press Agency and warned: “We are an automobile country, we are considered an automobile nation, but then here and there there is a lack of investment from the big companies Automotive industry into the future of young motorsports." Because the talent is still “out there”.
Without support it simply doesn't work. Tsunoda, who comes from Red Bull's youth program and is also supported by Honda, also knows this. The Japanese car manufacturer will continue to incorporate its know-how into the Red Bull engines until the end of 2025. “Without Honda and Red Bull I wouldn’t be here,” admitted Tsunoda. He has been accompanied by the Japanese car manufacturer since he was 16 and, alongside Ricciardo, is considered the favorite for an Alpha Tauri regular cockpit in 2024.
Of course, Lawson, who is also a junior at the beverage company and collected Formula 1 points for the first time last weekend, also knows how important support is. The young New Zealander admitted that he would be “not happy” if he had to return to the reserve role. "But instead of all the outside things, I focus on each session, always trying to maximize everything and show what I can do in the car." But sometimes even the maximum can be too little.