Liam Lawson has made quite the impression as a super-sub for Daniel Ricciardo at AlphaTauri, the New Zealander scoring points once and finishing just outside in 11th twice in just four Grands Prix. So why was he overlooked for a race seat by the Italian team for 2024, and what might the future hold for him?
Jumping into a team midway through a Formula 1 campaign is no easy feat, especially if you’re a rookie. But despite his F1 experience being limited to just a few tests and three appearances in first practice sessions last year, Lawson has excelled.
The 21-year-old has proved it is possible to hit the ground running and demonstrate your talent in a short window. He has impressed the team by seamlessly settling in and quickly finding performance, both over one lap and across a race distance.
It’s perhaps no surprise considering he’s shown real talent in junior formula. He’s won at least one race in every season he’s competed in internationally and is currently second in Super Formula, Japan’s highly competitive single-seater series, with one race to go.
But it’s one thing to be fast in other series, quite another to turn that speed on in Formula 1 – as former Formula E and Formula 2 champion Nyck de Vries proved this year, with the Dutchman parting ways with AlphaTauri after just 10 races, having made a stellar points-scoring debut in a one-off appearance for Williams last year in Monza.
Lawson has been quick across four very different racetracks in F1 – one of which (Singapore) he has never driven before in any racing category – and in a car that was among the slowest in the midfield. That’s a very good sample and a near blueprint of what is expected from a super-sub keen to make an impression.
With two seats at AlphaTauri up for grabs next year, many felt Lawson had done enough to secure a full-time gig – but Red Bull senior management saw it differently and opted for experience by retaining Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda.
This is not the end for Lawson, though, but rather the beginning. He has seriously impressed his bosses at Red Bull and AlphaTauri and successfully repaid their faith and investment in him – and that puts him in a strong position in the short term.
Red Bull will continue to heavily invest in him through his role as reserve driver for next season. That will mean embedding him in both Red Bull and AlphaTauri at all races next year, ensuring he continues to build relationships with mechanics and engineers and is fully plugged into debriefs and internal conversations.
Back at base, he will become even more familiar with Red Bull’s simulator, with race drivers for both Red Bull teams relying heavily on his efforts and feedback to aid them zero in on the ideal set-up for a race weekend – while also enhancing his own knowledge of the tracks and how the team operates and develops.
He has now completed too many Grands Prix to be eligible to fulfil the two Red Bull teams’ respective obligations of running a young driver in at least two FP1 sessions during a season – however he will likely get runs in the car during Pirelli tyre testing and it’s possible they’ll help keep his eye in with some old-spec F1 runs, too.
Oscar Piastri has proved a year on the sidelines is no bad thing. He spent last year on the Alpine bench before making his F1 debut with McLaren this year, the Australian making a name for himself with a string of brilliant performances, including a maiden podium last time out in Japan.
And there’s a chance Lawson won’t even have to wait until 2025 to get his shot, with Red Bull having shown they aren’t afraid of a mid-season driver change when they removed De Vries and replaced him with Ricciardo before the summer break.
Sergio Perez is under pressure at Red Bull, having scored only a little over half the number of points his team mate Max Verstappen has mustered, the Mexican trailing by 177 points despite having what is comfortably the best car in the field.
Sources suggest Ricciardo would be Red Bull’s favoured driver to replace Perez if required either mid-season or at the end of 2024 campaign, with Lawson being drafted in to replace the Australian at AlphaTauri.
With this is mind, Red Bull are keen to keep hold of Lawson. It is possible they could loan him out for a year, should Williams want him to replace Logan Sargeant. The two teams have collaborated before, with Alex Albon joining the British outfit, having been under contract at Red Bull as reserve.
However, any such deal for Lawson would almost certainly only be for a year, with Red Bull understood to be very keen to have Lawson racing one of their four cars in 2025 – and that is likely to be unappealing to Williams.
This means Lawson’s short-term future is reasonably clear. Continue to deliver as a sub for Ricciardo until the Australian returns – there’s a good chance Lawson will race in Qatar next weekend with Ricciardo’s return more likely to be Austin at the earliest – and then throw everything into his duties as a reserve.
Then he bides his time. Because it looks set to be a case of when, not if, he gets a full-time seat. And at 21 – as the current youngest racer on the grid – time is certainly on his side.