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Formula 1 Emilia Romagna GP

Tsunoda's Imola speed shows Red Bull is right to wait on Perez's F1 future

Red Bull is clear that Sergio Perez holds his Formula 1 destiny post-2024, but his contrasting Imola fortunes so far compared to stable-mate Yuki Tsunoda show why it's waiting.

Yuki Tsunoda, RB F1 Team VCARB 01

On a weekend where Red Bull had to adjust its ride height set-ups considerably to cope with the RB20's ongoing dislike for kerbs, Perez's crash late in FP3 meant Max Verstappen went into qualifying without any flying lap preparation on the soft tyres.

Although this didn't ultimately prevent the Dutchman blitzing to pole, Perez failed to progress to Q2 – blaming a switch between used and new softs in Q2 for a costly Tosa hairpin mistake from which he couldn't recover.

Tsunoda, meanwhile, finished third in FP2 and repeated that result in Q2. This raised expectations of what he could achieve ahead of the race at Imola, just 10 miles from the RB team's Faenza base.

The Japanese driver is benefitting from this event's typical GP weekend schedule compared to the previous two sprint events leaving him feeling calmer overall.

In the end in qualifying, Tsunoda was left to reflect on a final Q3 lap where he "could have done much better than that" as he ended up seventh. He did, however, beat Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton and RB team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.

"The team gave me such a nice car since FP1 and [I've been] feeling confident throughout the week," he added. "Without that, I wouldn't have been able to achieve this [result] on one set [of tyres] in Q2. Very happy and thanks to them.

"To be honest, I didn't expect this much performance from the car, so it's hard to tell. Normally we struggle in the high speed, but we see a big difference compared to the previous races compared to the top five teams.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB20

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB20

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

"So, something to understand properly for going forward – because moments like this to be honest I didn't expect. Maybe home race power?"

Tsunoda also hailed the progress made by the new staff at the former AlphaTauri squad in 2024, including team principal Laurent Mekies.

After the Miami race where RB added floor and diffuser upgrades to its VCARB 01 car and Tsunoda finished seventh in the GP, Mekies said he's "made a huge step this year".

At Red Bull's main team and post-qualifying 11th at Imola, Perez explained: "Unfortunately, my first lap in Q1 wasn't ideal.

"We thought we were not safe so we put another set of new tyres on and by doing that it basically meant I was on scrubbed tyres for my final run of quali.

"When I put the new tyre on in Q2, I picked up a lot of rear grip and I went straight into Turn 7 [Tosa], lost two-and-a-half tenths which, given the margins were extremely tight, I just didn't make it."

In the other RB, Ricciardo qualified ninth having struggled with oversteer sapping him of confidence compared to Tsunoda in Friday practice.

Although uncertainty over Verstappen's Red Bull future can be parked as the interregnum team's 2024 management war continues, Perez's various plights at Imola show what a tough decision Red Bull has to make over the only 2025 seat it definitely still has free.

The team decided to see if he could keep up a relatively strong start to the season – his underperformance in Australia qualifying led to damage in the pack and so being unable to rescue a win after Verstappen's brake issue – and is waiting to see if he avoids 2023's early-summer slump.

Yuki Tsunoda, Visa Cash App RB F1 Team

Yuki Tsunoda, Visa Cash App RB F1 Team

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Moments such as those at Imola on Saturday make the case for Perez staying significantly harder. At the same time, while Tsunoda has shone it still may not be enough for the pieces to fall his way for a 2025 promotion.

Heading into 2024, Red Bull team Christian Horner was open to a Ricciardo return, which has been complicated by the Australian's inconsistent form so far this year. Helmut Marko, Red Bull's motorsport advisor, while impressed by Tsunoda's calmer radio demeanour of late, still needs to be convinced of his ultimate potential.

RB has been specifically working with Tsunoda to help him avoid the 'red mist' moments following setbacks that he has often had in the past.

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And then there's the availability of Ferrari's Carlos Sainz. Although he has been eclipsed by team-mate Charles Leclerc at Imola to this point, he is considered a step above either Tsunoda or Ricciardo if Red Bull were to dispense with Perez.

But given his form so far in Emilia-Romagna, Tsunoda should at least reflect on a fine performance at what is a brutal and tricky track – highlighted by Perez's struggles in the season's best car.

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