Following the jaw-dropping news that Daniel Ricciardo will move to AlphaTauri on loan replacing rookie Nyck de Vries in his disappointing debut Formula 1 season, speculation has intensified about the future of Liam Lawson, one of Red Bull’s most promising young drivers who is on course for a Super Formula Championship in his debut season.
Liam Lawson could be the next rookie driver to make the significant leap to Formula 1. The 21-year-old driver from New Zealand has just won his third race out of six in this season’s Championship, moving within just one point of the lead. With many wrongly assuming the next available seat in the Red Bull system would likely go to Lawson, this recent snub certainly won’t derail Lawson’s promised route to the big time.
Magnanimous after AlphaTauri’s decision to reinstall Daniel Ricciardo, Lawson accepted the decision with maturity, saying the message from Red Bull was clear: stay the course, win the championship and then we’ll talk. After six races, Lawson is in a very strong position in Super Formula with momentum on his side, scoring significant points in all races this season with a very good chance to clinch the title.
“I always wanted to complete the season here [in Super Formula]. My goal was to get a seat for next year.” Lawson told Motorsport.com. “To jump in mid-season would have been extremely tough, and in AlphaTauri’s position, they were wanting someone experienced who has been in Formula 1 for a long time. So I understand their decision.”
AlphaTauri’s shock dismissal of de Vries certainly wasn’t in the script for this season, but staring at the prospect of a significantly weakened second team, Red Bull was forced to act, recalling everyone’s favourite Formula 1 driver Daniel Ricciardo to the starting grid. Ricciardo has been without a seat in Formula 1 since leaving McLaren at the end of last year, instead, deployed as Red Bull’s third driver for testing and commercial responsibilities.
Installing Lawson now would have left a crucial chapter unwritten for the rookie’s promising career. It’s in Red Bull’s – and Lawson’s – best interest to keep the Kiwi driver where he is to gain crucial experience in an impressive debut Super season, and his recent performances, while expected, will undoubtedly have Red Bull’s hierarchy sitting up and taking notice.
“But this [Super Formula] is what I am focused on. Any shot I have at Formula 1 rides on how I do here. So I have to complete the year in the best way possible and try to win this championship, which is what will give me the chance.” Lawson said.
Next year, Red Bull will have some big decisions to make, faced with as many as three seats to fill for the 2024 season; decisions that in recent years, they have got terribly wrong. AlphaTauri, whilst formally Red Bull’s sister team, presents the best opportunity to blood the junior drivers ahead of the big time, and has frequently been used – relatively unsuccessfully – to find second drivers to match the unrelenting generational talent of Max Verstappen.
Pierre Gasly proved he was good enough for a faster car at then Torro Rosso and moved up to partner Verstappen in 2019, before being demoted following a less-than-impactful season. Alex Albon was impressing for Torro Rosso and the pair switched places ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix. Albon was subsequently replaced by a more experienced Sergio Pérez following a string of bad drives. I’m sensing there’s a pattern forming here…
Yuki Tsunoda, Ricciardo’s new AlphaTauri teammate, has driven beyond the capabilities of the car this season, with questions now surfacing about his ability to potentially move up the grid to become the next driver brought in to pair with Max Verstappen.
Depending on how the rest of this season goes, Ricciardo will undoubtedly be looking for a new drive further up the grid in 2024, putting increasing pressure on Perez as his form continues to fall off in dramatic fashion.
Staying in Super Formula could prove to be the best move for Liam Lawson; a rookie who continues to impress in his pursuit of a Championship title, biding his time away from the neverending game of musical chairs being played at the top of the ladder. Lawson will just hope that there’s a spare seat waiting for him when the music inevitably stops.