Called the Super Ultimate Japanese Racing Challenge Show, this latest episode of Red Bull off-the-grid fun-and-games adventures sees the past two season’s world champion and his teammate taking the (Red) Bull by the tail. Going head-to-head against the baby sister F1 team from Red Bull, the Aplhatauri, represented by Japan’s Yuki Tsunoda and the Scuderia’s reserve pilot, the New Zealander Liam Lawson.
The competition involves wheels, gearboxes, engines, blindfolds, crashing into obstacles, cornering, and speed. It sounds pretty close to a regular Formula One race, but this time, the four pilots take the wheel of a slightly different machine.
It’s a Honda Acty micro truck, a Kei utilitarian light-duty vehicle with rear-wheel drive, a three-cylinder 660 CC engine, and a flatbed (full of empty boxes that have a tendency to tip over quickly). The first challenge should be a walk in the park for the high-speed raiders from Formula One driver: reverse parking.
More to the point, reverse obstacle parking: the nominated drivers – Sergio and Yuki, for this first round – must go around three walls (also built from empty, lightweight, colorful boxes) and then parallel-park the minuscule two-seater in the designated spot. The fastest team wins – this part should at least be familiar to the Red Bull’s main F1 pilots.
Checo goes first and immediately shows everyone that we could get the pilot out of Formula One, but we can never take Formula One out of the pilot. With racing track-honed reflexes, the Oracle Red Bull driver takes off in a tire-shrieking start that rips the start line from the floor.
He also demonstrates that mirror-steering isn’t something Red Bull secretly teaches in Formula One training (or any other team, for that matter). However, the obstacle-avoidance instincts of an F1 pilot take over, and the Mexican – closely guided by his trusty copilot and two-times Formula One World Champion Max Verstappen – gets beyond the walls with flying colors.
Parking a truck the size of a king-size bed is the tricky bit – Sergio Perez needs a couple of extra maneuvers to get the Honda in the box. The secret is to turn on the windshield wipers – Checo accidentally hits the stick in the frenzy of the high-adrenaline time-attack challenge. And this is where Max Verstappen’s lightning reflexes really show up, honking the Honda’s horn to signal the stage’s completion.
Alphatauri’s performance is silky-smooth – Yuki Tsunoda nails the meandering challenge, even though he struggles with shoehorning the micro-truck in the parking spot. Being the audience’s favorite helps a lot – the Red Bull happening was staged in Tokyo (naturally, as the drivers were readily available since they also will attend the Sunday drive at Suzuka).
A clean win for Red Bull’s second F1 team in the first round brings the competitive spirit of Max up to boiling temperature as he aims for a win in the second ‘Delivery Driver’ round. Well, ‘aim’ might not be the most appropriate verb since the standing world champion and current top-ranking in the 2023 season must drive blindfolded.
This is a test of communication, teamwork, and driving mastery since the trucks are stacked with boxes that must stay in the Hondas’ beds the entire length of the obstacle course. Oh yes, this is also a go-around-walls challenge, with the copilot giving the driver precise instructions on how, where, and when to steer, when to accelerate, and when to brake.
Each lost box means a two-second penalty. Alphatauri – with Liam Lawson steering and stepping on the pedals and Yuki Tsunoda guiding him with vocal instructions – stumbles over the finish line with a heavy 22-second handicap. That’s a pile of 11 crates lost en route (in no small part due to the helping hands from their rivals Max and Checo).
With impeccable verbal communication, the Red Bull pilots glide to the finish line without as much as a hiccup – and with their precious time-costly cargo intact, leveling the odds to a one-all score after the first two rounds.
Naturally, no Japanese TV game show with real cars (be they Kei trucks driven by F1 pilots) is complete without a giant bowling game. A rubber ball and equally oversized pins – nearly seven feet tall (around two meters) – are at the contenders’ disposal. But they must use the Hondas to knock down as many as possible in one roll.
Alphatauri may be down of point on the track, but the duo aces the tenpins challenge with nine against Red Bull’s eight. The current board leaders in the Grand Prix standings complete their frame by slapping down the remaining two, while Yuki Tsunoda makes it look like child’s play when he rams the tiny Honda in the enormous ball to get the last standing pin and the win. Much to Max Verstappen’s uncensored disappointment – his competitiveness is probably matched only by his precision behind the overly complicated F1 steering yoke.
The final round is by far the most physically demanding, with both teams starting simultaneously with the trucks’ beds full of boxes. The task is deceptively simple: drive through a wall, then around two more, unload the cargo in a designated area, switch drivers, go around more obstacles, and cross the finish line first.
Being a full-throttle head-to-head race, speed is paramount, so Checo Perez and Liam Lawson floor the mighty 44-hp Hondas. The inertia immediately blasts half the cardboard cubes off the vehicles, but that’s irrelevant. At the drop zone, all racers must get out of the trucks to stack the boxes in the rectangle, then jump in and gun it, weaving past three colorful piles of crates to get to the chequered flag first.
Two-all after four rounds, since the Oracle Red Bull pilots defend their no-speed-limit honor and win the closing round of this hilarious race. It’s far from surprising; they’ve been practicing it all season, with the notable exception of the Singapore GP, where Ferrari claimed the only non-Red Bull victory of 2023.