How does Tsunoda’s dream debut stack against the rest of the grid?

Yuki Tsunoda took the F1 paddock by storm with an impressive debut in Bahrain, confirming his prodigy status and promising a bright future in the sport.

But which drivers on the current grid also enjoyed a fantastic start to their F1 career, and who will have quickly forgotten their rookie debut?

Tsunoda became the first driver to be born in the 2000s to race in F1 after he replaced Russian Daniil Kyvat at AlphaTauri for the 2021 season.

For rookies the main priority in their debut race is to have a clean and comfortable race, trying to add mileage but some go above and beyond that, while others forget the basics and fail to complete one lap.

The Japanese driver ninth-place finish, including some ambitious overtakes, saw F1’s technical director hail Tsunoda as “F1’s best rookie in years”, and that got people talking.

So, we decided to look back at six of the current grid’s rookie debuts to see who shone in their first-ever F1 Grand Prix and those that would rather forget, including one disqualification.

And with Imola looming, we also looked at their second races, to see what the standard is for Tsuonda to beat this weekend.

Yuki Tsunoda vs Nikita Mazepin: A Fairytale and a Nightmare

Red Bull’s RB16B: The long and short of it

The F1 Midfield Power Rankings – The teams to beat at Imola

Lewis Hamilton – 2007 Australian Grand Prix

Oh, how Tsunoda would love to follow in the footsteps of the seven-time World Champion.

There was plenty of hype around Lewis Hamilton when he first entered F1 in 2007, rightly so, but the British driver amazed the sport after such a strong debut season, including that podium finish on his first-ever F1 race.

Hamilton stormed ahead of his team-mate at the time, reigning double-world champion Fernando Alonso, at the start and never faltered under the pressure as he comfortably drove to a third-place finish, one of the highest finishes by a rookie on their debut.

He then followed that up with another podium finish in the second race weekend of 2017 at the Malaysian Grand Prix and kept it up for nine races in a row.

Embed from Getty Images

Max Verstappen – 2015 Australian Grand Prix

Hamilton’s current championship contender, Max Verstappen, had a much tougher start to life in F1 – albeit in a slower and weaker car compared to the British driver.

He started at the Red Bull junior team Toro Rosso, the seat same currently held by Tsunoda, aged only 16.

However, unlike the Japanese driver on his debut, Verstappen failed to score any points at Melbourne Park as he retired at around half distance due to an engine problem.

Things didn’t get much easier for the Dutchman over the next few races, with two retirements in five races, but he showed his potential in the Toro Rosso in the second race of the 2015 season to finish seventh. 

Tsunoda will be keen to replicate the footsteps of Verstappen to Red Bull and will be looking to outdo the Dutchman’s first season at F1 in which he finished 12th in the championship with 49 points.

Embed from Getty Images

Pierre Gasly – 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix

Unlike the names above, Pierre Gasly entered F1 in rather unusual circumstances, replacing Kyvat with just five races left of the 2017 season.

So it perhaps wasn’t surprising to see the Frenchman fail to score any points in his opening race at the 2007 Malaysian Grand Prix. He finished 14th ahead of his team-mate at the time, Carlos Sainz Jr, who retired on lap 29.

Toro Rosso boss, Franz Tost, wanted to compare his options for the 2018 season, switching between Sainz, Gasly, Brendon Hartley and Kyvat, with each driver having at least two races each.

Gasly struggled a week later in the Japanese Grand Prix, finishing in 13th, and that was a similar story in the final three races of his year, failing to score a single point but managed to persuade Toro Rosso to sign him for the 2018 season.

Embed from Getty Images

Lance Stroll – 2017 Australian Grand Prix

Lance Stroll had a difficult start to life in F1, having been a called-up to the 2017 campaign. His partner was supposed to be Valtteri Bottas, but a late call-up to Mercedes meant Felipe Massa would partner the Canadian.

It was the experienced head of Massa that enjoyed a comfortable opening weekend of the 2017 season, while Stroll struggled.

Stroll had qualified in 19th in his first Grand Prix before being demoted to 20th, and things didn’t get any better for the rookie driver. He then had to retire halfway through his race due to a brake issue, which became a recurring theme throughout the next few races.

The second race of his F1 career also wasn’t plain-sailing, Stroll had to retire after a collision with Sergio Perez on the opening lap of the Chinese Grand Prix despite qualifying in a respectable 10th place.

He made it three consecutive retirements two weeks later, followed by three non-points finishes.

It wasn’t the most pleasing start to Stroll’s F1 career.

Embed from Getty Images

Sergio Perez – 2011 Australian Grand Prix

So far we’ve had podium finishes and retirements on rookie’s debuts, but how about disqualifications?

Yes, that happened to current Red Bull driver Sergio Perez on his debut race in F1 back in 2011. The Mexican, who was driving for Sauber at the time, had qualified in 13th ahead of the likes of Paul Di Resta and Pastor Maldonado.

His first-ever F1 race was then filled with controversy after Perez defied all expectations by making a single stop in the Sauber to finish seventh, ahead of his team-mate in eighth.

During post-race inspections, both Sauber’s were disqualified due to a technical infringement on their rear wing, with both drivers removed from the final standings.

Not the ideal way to introduce yourself to the sport.

Unfortunately, things didn’t get much better for Perez in his second race, as he had to retire on lap 23 due to electrical issues.

Embed from Getty Images

Sebastian Vettel – 2007 USA Grand Prix

Last but not least, we end with four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel who had a one-off debut race to showcase his potential to F1 paddock in 2007.

After Robert Kubica was injured during the Canadian Grand Prix, BMW Sauber turned to novice Vettel to replace the Polish driver for the 2007 USA Grand Prix.

It was an opportunity for 19-year-old Vettel to audition himself for potential seats in the upcoming season, and he certainly made an impression.

The German driver qualified in seventh, just five-tenths behind his vastly experienced team-mate Nick Heidfeld. He then drove a clean and comfortable race on Sunday to finish in eighth and became the youngest driver to score a championship point.

However, more importantly for Vettel, it encouraged teams to gamble on the rookie. Notably, Toro Rosso – who dropped Scott speed following the European Grand Prix and Vettel replaced him for the final seven races.

But, his debut race didn’t follow in the same footsteps as his first-ever race, finishing as low as 16th.

Embed from Getty Images

Yuki Tsunoda vs Nikita Mazepin: A Fairytale and a Nightmare