While three rookies made their debuts this weekend, two of them managed to steal the show in completely opposite ways. Not to put Mick Schumacher down, but the expectations were minimal given the current situation at Haas. While Mick was respectable, Yuki Tsunoda and Nikita Mazepin stole the show in completely contrasting ways.
One driver put on a history book level performance, while the other came and went faster than it took to microwave my bag of popcorn. Let’s take a look at these two showings, from hero all the way to zero.
Tsunoda was not only the youngest F1 driver on the grid, but the first graduate of Honda’s driver development program to reach F1. While Tsunoda may not have been on many people’s radars, his standout run at Bahrain saw him beat Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, a trio with a combined seven world championships between them.
Tsunoda also became the first driver since Stoffel Vandoorne in 2016 to score points in his debut, ironically enough, both coming at Bahrain. The ninth-place effort put him on everyone’s map and probably puts him in Helmut Marko’s good grace for future promotion to Red Bull Racing. While it’s only one race, Tsunoda showed veteran prowess as he battled all over the track. If he keeps this pace up, look for Tsunoda to be on the fast track to F1 stardom.
After qualifying 13th, Tsunoda had to work hard for those two points. He managed to finish ahead of teammate Pierre Gasly, both Aston Martins, both Alpines and both Alfa Romeos. In a season where the midfield contains nearly five teams contending each week, Tsunoda might have already proven he can run with the big dogs and beat them on speed rather than attrition.
Depending on your microwave, it usually takes around two minutes to fully pop a bag of microwave popcorn. Mazepin could’ve fit four of his starts into one session of popping popcorn, as the Russian driver’s debut lasted only 22 seconds. By sliding off the track and crashing in turn 2 entering the sidestretch that has not been kind to Haas over the years, Mazepin made the shortest F1 debut since 2002.
Mazepin was a danger in practice and qualifying, being involved in multiple spins, including one in qualifying that got Vettel a grid penalty, forcing him to start dead last on the grid. While I’m sure Mazepin will get better, his embarrassing debut only serves as more fuel to the fire for the fan-professed most hated driver in F1.
Looking at past F1 debuts, last season Nicholas Latifi finished P11 on debut, while in 2019, Lando Norris, George Russell and Alex Albon finished P12, P16 and P14 respectively in their first starts. While Mazepin’s debut was the shortest since 2002, the only reason for Felipe Massa’s and Alan McNish’s tallied DNFs was due to the infamous lap 1 pileup at Albert Park that year. Mazepin’s crash was of his own accord. However, given his dad is the title sponsor of the team, it shouldn’t be a dealbreaker.
F1 is a strange world, sometimes a rookie can set the world alight right away. Other times, it takes a little bit longer than usual. In the case of these two drivers, only time will tell if they can live up to the hype and turn their luck around.