Liam Lawson, AlphaTauri, 2023

2023 Formula 1 driver rankings #16: Liam Lawson

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As Liam Lawson competed in only five grands prix through the 2023 season, his ranking takes his reduced participation into account

Where do Red Bull continue to find these talented young drivers from?

After two seasons in Formula 2, 21-year-old Liam Lawson was shipped off to compete in the fastest single-seater category with the highest levels of downforce outside of Formula 1 – Japan’s Super Formula series.

Lawson sensationally won the opening race of the season at Fuji and sat second in the championship just eight points behind Ritomo Miyata after the penultimate round in Motegi in late August. Then, he got on a plane and flew back to Europe, ready for another weekend on the pit wall as Red Bull’s reserve driver for the following weekend’s Dutch Grand Prix.

That Friday night, Lawson was given the biggest news of his racing career when Red Bull informed him that Daniel Ricciardo had broken his hand in his second practice crash and he would be taking over his AlphaTauri for the remainder of the weekend and make a surprise grand prix debut. While he openly admitted his nerves at heading into his grand prix debut with just an hour of practice, Lawson made a strong impression over the rest of the weekend.

Liam Lawson, AlphaTauri, Singapore, 2023
Ninth in Singapore was AlphaTauri’s best result at the time
There was zero shame in being eliminated as the slowest driver in Q1 given the circumstances. On race day, the racing gods were not feeling charitable and chose to test the sport’s newest driver with rain as he completed his first formation lap. Lawson pitted at the end of his first grand prix lap for intermediate tyres, then kept his head calm and his car on the track to reach the chequered flag in one piece and even be classified ahead of team mate Yuki Tsunoda following his post-race penalty.

Lawson’s commendable debut under immense pressure had made a powerful first impression. With Ricciardo’s recovery lasting two months, Lawson had four further weekends to both gain vital experience and show more of what he could do.

At Monza, his first full weekend, Lawson narrowly missed out on a point in 11th place after again gaining positions after the finish due to penalties – securing a better result than Nyck de Vries had managed throughout his 10 rounds in the car. But Lawson really shone in Singapore. Not only did he famously knock out world champion Max Verstappen in qualifying by reaching Q3 for the first time, he drove a mature race over the longest and most mentally taxing grand prix of the season to finish ninth and secure his first career points in Formula 1.

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Liam Lawson

GP start1019
GP finish917

He was close to taking more points at Suzuka, a circuit he had prior experience with from his time in Super Formula, once again delivering a clean weekend where he avoided any major mistakes and again missed out on a point by finishing ahead of Tsunoda. By now, such was the strong impression the rookie was making, many fans were beginning to question not just whether Lawson should be offered a race seat at Red Bull’s second team in 2024, but if AlphaTauri should forgo bringing Ricciardo back once healthy.

Unfortunately for Lawson, he left the paddock with his weakest performance of his short stint in Qatar. Over a suffocatingly hot sprint race weekend in Losail – his first experience with the format – Lawson struggled with the balance of his car from Friday and was eliminated behind Tsunoda in Q1. He spun out of the sprint race after just two corners of the opening lap – his first major blunder of his grand prix career – and on Sunday, he simply lacked pace. Lawson ran at the back for the majority of the race and while he largely matched Tsunoda, he faded over the final stint to finish almost 20 seconds behind his team mate as the last driver running.

But aside from a difficult final weekend behind the wheel, Lawson had every reason to be incredibly proud of how he acquitted himself in his first five rounds in a Formula 1 car. With Formula 2 champions like Felipe Drugovich and Theo Pourchaire understandably ruing the fact the door of opportunity has yet to swing open for them into Formula 1, Lawson now has his foot inside that same door. Hopefully this will not be the last time he gets to compete on the grand prix grid.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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25 comments on “2023 Formula 1 driver rankings #16: Liam Lawson”

  1. I was hugely impressed with Lawson. He’s going to be a fine driver, I think. A shame he won’t be on the grid next year, as I think he’s clearly ahead of the two Alpha Tauri race drivers.

    1. I’m not sure about that, I mean, definitely he had a good debut and a good season, compared to de vries, and probably better than ricciardo, but I don’t think what he showed is enough to consider him better than tsunoda, who so far in his career was not considered a particularly strong driver.

      Certainly was good enough to deserve a f1 seat next year though.

      1. In terms of pace he didn’t prove to be quicker than Tsunoda, at least for now. But where he definitely impressed was his overall demeanour, readiness, professionalism. He was thrown in the car for some of the most challenging races of the season and he kept his composure. Something that Tsunoda still can’t do in his third year.

        1. Lol. Ricciardo and Vettel didn’t prove to be quicker than Vitantonio Liuzzi when they got drafted in mid season.

          1. Vettel was pretty solid in his 2008 season… I mean.. taking a win in a Toro Rosso and putting in consistent point finishes in a lower midfield car car was pretty impressive by any standard. Ricciardo.. I agree.. he never looked any better than Vergne, and I was surprised at how he outperformed Vettel from the get go at RB.

            Just goes to show that sometimes its hard to predict how a driver will perform when given a new challenge or opportunity. The same goes for Lawson. His F2 performances weren’t convincing enough that he would be a good F1 driver, but he was the most impressive AT driver this year for sure.

      2. He still has to prove a lot, bit too early to consider him as a future WDC, I agree.

        But he was at least on par with Tsunoda (in fact, mostly ahead, but I have to admit Yuki was a bit unlucky is some of these GP), straight out of the box with 0 experience of F1 and jumping in the car mid season (so when everybody is fully settled). If you consider that Tsunoda was in his 3rd year with the team…

        So much much stronger than Tsunoda in his first year, and already at the same level than him… Makes him much more deserving of the seat IMHO. I’m not saying Tsunoda is stealing it ; he improved drastically and has had some very strong performances. But Lawson was the most impressive of the 3 drivers and he’s the one out of a F1 seat next year.

        He clearly miss on the seat because of commercial reasons.

        1. Yes, I also thought it was unfair they left him without a seat for next year, purely based on what he showed, it looks like ricciardo was in no matter what, cause at the time of the 2024 decision lawson had definitely done better.

    2. I thought he did well too overall. But he probably doesn’t have the amount of financial backing that some others have. Money talks I guess.

      More teams on the grid would be good.
      Not a fan of the current F1 “closed corporate club”.

    3. @sham Let’s not forget that Nyck De Vries impressed hugely for his single outing for Williams last year, then went ahead and had… that… season.

      There may be reasons for that, but it’s after all not the first time that someone nosedives after initially impressing.

      1. Okay, replying to myself; It was actually 7 races. My memory is short, remembering it as quite a bit fewer races.

        That changes things, it’s a lot more to rate on. Nevermind me, move along :)

        1. (Liam had 7 races, I mean)

          1. five races and a sprint ;)

          2. I’ll just go lie down now, I obviously need it. :)

            … In my defence, I took the article at face value: As Liam Lawson competed in only seven grands prix through the 2023 season, his ranking takes his reduced participation into account

  2. Lawson ran at the back for the majority of the race and while he largely matched Tsunoda, he faded over the final stint to finish almost 20 seconds behind his team mate as the last driver running.

    His first experience of a complete race of flat out running, possibly the same for everyone else, but then again the others weren’t lacking in experience and driving a dog of a car – improved from the start of the season, but it would have been difficult to go backward in performance without copying features from Haas.

    I think Lawson deserved the seat in 2024. It might be interesting to see him replace Perez

    1. Coventry Climax
      14th December 2023, 10:46

      I think Lawson deserved a seat with Alpha Tauri for ’24.
      Also, if you look at where the team is, it’s not all that important if they had put in Lawson instead of Tsunoda, only to maybe find out he did not do a better job after all, at the end of ’24. But it would have given them the opportunity to assess his potential. It would also have still given them the opportunity to assess Ricciardo’s performance, as the cars are basically unchanged for ’24. While Tsunoda seems to have improved this last year, I say that’s rather late and hardly impressive, and might even be due to upgrades more than personal development.

      Likely though, Honda, bringing in a large chunk of the money, does all the talking. Can’t blame them, but whether they are right? Does the extra homeground attention weigh up to a more global recognition? Does Tsunoda even add to the recognition, given the way Verstappen -and Honda- won ’23?
      I’m not Honda’s bookkeeper. Would like to hear from him/her though.

      1. Coventry Climax
        14th December 2023, 13:51

        This was not intended at all to be a reply to you, SteveP, sorry about that.
        Happens to more of us, looks like the interface is playing tricks now and again.

    2. Liam should have been given a seat for 2024. Again, the limitations of having just 10 teams obstruct a promising career.

  3. Lawson made a good impression, but in the races where Tsunoda didn’t have problems the difference wasn’t that noteworthy. To be expected, I guess. Lawson has basically no experience, and starting in the middle of a season is always tough. Would probably have been at Red Bull if the Honda seat wasn’t reserved for Tsunoda.

    1. Coventry Climax
      14th December 2023, 10:54

      Lawson made a good impression, but in the races where Tsunoda didn’t have problems the difference wasn’t that noteworthy.

      I would have worded that like this:

      Lawson made a good impression, especially since in the races where Tsunoda didn’t have problems the difference wasn’t that noteworthy, whereasthe difference in experience certainly was.

      1. That’s a fair take, and I suppose it depends on how one rates Tsunoda. I fully expect him to be dumped the second Red Bull no longer uses Honda engines, and no other team will show any interest whatsoever.

        For Lawson to make the case that he’s the real deal and jump the Red Bull queue into a race seat in 2024, he had to wow people – and he didn’t. He was okay, but there was nothing to suggest that F1 just saw something special.

        I’d have liked to see him get the third Red Bull seat for next year, but apparently Ricciardo has a lot of credit with the folks there in Milton Keynes.

  4. Coventry Climax
    14th December 2023, 11:01

    So, who’s next?
    Bottas? That was a rather lacklustre season. The only thing shiny was his glossy calender.
    Hulkenberg? Quite decent at times, given the tools he had to work with, but not very consistent – story of his career I’m afraid.

    1. Hulkenberg was consistent enough to wipe the floor with Sainz Jr. when they were teammates.

      1. Coventry Climax
        14th December 2023, 13:49

        But it’s about this season, not when they were teammates.

  5. Tsunoda has done a good job this year. I think he’s been unlucky not to score double the points he finished on and so comparitively Lawson did a mega job being thrown in at the deep end and learning fast with each session. The only place he really struggled was Qatar and that was to be expected with it being a Sprint weekend and needing more time to dial himself into the car and track.

    It’ll be a shame if he doesn’t secure a seat for 2025 as I feel like he should have been selected ahead of De Vries this year and he’s missed out on 2024 because they had already signed Ricciardo and Tsunoda before Lawson even got his chance. I’m guessing the expectation is Perez leaves but what if all 3 drivers peform well and there isn’t a space once again for Lawson? It has to be incredibly frustrating for him.

  6. He seems to have talent to adapt quickly not sure he has the pace though after 3yrs of competitive racing outside F1. Looking at his stats he was P9 in his first year in F2. 3rd in second year, just 1pt ahead his team mate Sargeant and this year he did SF in Japan where he finished P2 just 0.5pts ahead of P3. His performance in F1 surprised RBR as well because they seems to have doubt as well I think. In comparison to top talent like Leclerc and Piastri who won F2 title in their first attempt it self. Yuki was P3 1pt less than P2 in his first and only year before moving to F1.

    In Qatar he was very slow. He took a pitstop under SC but still was some 18secs behind his team mate. Monza and Japan tracks where he has raced before, Japan especially since he was racing in Japan. He was not too bad. IMO NDV would have definitely scored points in Monza, like he did in his debut for Williams in 2022 and I think he would have also done well as the car improved a lot in second half. Singapore he could not beat Yuki Q1 time but kept it clean. His debut was also good. Although he took 4stops I think so never really racing just getting used to car as he was mostly driving fresh rubber he kept it on track.

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