Liam Lawson

Liam Lawson unexpectedly got the chance to make his Formula 1 debut when Daniel Ricciardo was injured during practice for the Dutch Grand Prix in 2023.

One month earlier, Red Bull had chosen Ricciardo instead of Lawson to replace the struggling Nyck de Vries at their junior team AlphaTauri. Ricciardo was in his third event for the team when he incurred a broken hand at Zandvoort. That opened the door for Lawson, who had been a member of Red Bull’s junior team for seven years and was racing in Japan’s Super Formula series.

Early years

Lawson came to Red Bull’s attention having shown remarkable promise in New Zealand’s junior racing series. Having received his first go-kart at the age of six and begun racing a year later, Lawson made his car racing debut in Formula First in 2015, aged 13. After winning his first start he went on to place sixth in the championship and take top rookie honours. In 2016 he moved into Formula Ford and clinched the title in style, winning 14 out of 15 races.

To progress further, Lawson had to leave behind the familiar circuits of New Zealand and relocate his career to Australia. Remarkably, he won on his debut again in Australia’s Formula 4 category. He added another four wins over the course of the year to finish runner up in the 2017 championship and top rookie.

Again Lawson had to spread his wings in order to pursue his racing career further the following year. He joined Van Amersfoort racing for an assault on Germany’s Formula 4 championship and acquitted himself well, winning three times on his way to second in the championship behind Lirim Zendeli, who had made his debut in the series two years earlier.

At the end of the year Lawson entered the Asian F3 season finale triple-header at Sepang in Malaysia. He blew the series regulars away, leading all three races from start to finish from pole position and capping a perfect weekend with a trio of fastest laps. That one weekend left him eighth in the championship ahead of some drivers who had started all 15 races.

For the beginning of the 2019 season Lawson was able to return home and contest the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand. He followed the likes of Lando Norris and Lance Stroll by winning the title, beating Marcus Armstrong by 10 points, the pair having taken five wins each. Lawson secured the title with victory in the final race, the day before his 17th birthday.

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Red Bull Junior Team

His performances attracted the attention of Red Bull, who signed Lawson to their Junior Team and placed him in the FIA Formula 3 series for 2019 as well as the F3-based Euroformula Open category. As the former took priority, he had to miss four Euroformula races.

Lawson has made a habit of winning on his debut
Nonetheless Lawson finished second in the championship behind team mate Marino Sato. He might have finished higher but for collisions with two other team mates: Julian Hansen in the Pau Grand Prix and future AlphaTauri team mate Yuki Tsunoda at Spa-Francorchamps. In FIA F3 he placed 11th for MP Motorsport, taking a single podium finish with third at Silverstone.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the 2020 season, Lawson returned to New Zealand to defend his Toyota Racing Series title. But despite winning five times again he lost the title to Igor Fraga, who took four wins, Lawson suffering a costly retirement at Hampton Downs.

It was a similar story on his return to FIA F3, where Lawson moved to Hitech. A point-less triple-header weekend at the Red Bull Ring cost him dearly, and although Lawson won three times he ended the season fifth and was only 21 points behind champion Oscar Piastri.

Final-round collision cost Lawson 2021 DTM title
Lawson graduated to Formula 2 with Hitech the following year and claimed another of his debut wins, this time having started third on a partially-reversed starting grid. He only made two more visits to the podium, and never again to the top step, though he finished first in Monaco before being disqualified due to a technical infringement. While Lawson picked up points regularly enough to end the year ninth, fellow rookie Piastri took the title.

Red Bull also took the unusual step of entering Lawson in the DTM in an AF Corse-run Ferrari. Following another debut win Lawson hit his stride in the second half of the season, scoring six podium finishes in seven races.

He started the Norisring finale from pole position, knowing he could only lose the title if he failed to score and rival Maximilian Goetz won. But that exact scenario unfolded in a controversial finale. Lawson was harpooned by rival Kelvin van der Linde at the first corner, then Mercedes ordered two of Goetz’s team mates to pull over and let him score the championship-clinching win. Lawson lost the title by three points.

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Surprise F1 chance

The 2022 F2 season never looked like being that close. While Felipe Drugovich cruised to the title, Lawson ended the year third behind Theo Pourchaire. Although he took four wins, they all came in sprint races, and he never once started from pole position. When Red Bull needed a replacement for Pierre Gasly at AlphaTauri for 2023, they picked de Vries and sent Lawson to race in Japanese Super Formula.

Liam Lawson, Red Bull, Yas Marina, 2022 post-season test
Lawson tested Verstappen’s Red Bull
Incredibly, despite facing a quality field including his own team mate, a two-times champion, Lawson won on his debut again. He followed that up with two more wins, but at the seventh race in Motegi he inadvertently triggered a huge crash. Lawson was unhurt and even took part in the restarted race, and five days later came the crash which handed him his F1 opportunity.

Red Bull had quickly lost patience with de Vries and discarded him in favour of Ricciardo. However during practice for his third grand prix with AlphaTauri, Ricciardo hit a barrier while avoiding a crash of another driver, and broke a bone in his left hand. Red Bull therefore called on Lawson to substitute and finally make his F1 debut.

Lawson had already made three appearances for Red Bull’s teams in practice sessions during 2022, under a new rule introduced requiring teams to give running to inexperienced drivers. In addition to his two runs for AlphaTauri, Lawson drove Max Verstappen’s Red Bull during first practice in the season finale at Yas Marina.

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