Ricciardo or Lawson at Imola? Helmut Marko shares paddock gossip over driver swap

Thomas Maher
Liam Lawson and Daniel Ricciardo, RB, 2024 Miami Grand Prix.

Rumours of a Liam Lawson/Daniel Ricciardo swap have come from the Kiwi's management, according to Helmut Marko...

Helmut Marko has hinted speculation over Liam Lawson getting a seat at RB soon has come directly from the Kiwi’s management.

The Red Bull advisor, who is responsible for Red Bull’s driver development selection, claims that rumours of Liam Lawson being given a mid-season nod to swap into Daniel Ricciardo’s RB have come from New Zealand.

Helmut Marko: Rumours of Daniel Ricciardo swap ‘nonsense’

Lawson is a particularly hot property available on the driver market, with the Kiwi having shone during his stint as a substitute for the injured Ricciardo during last season.

Lawson was reportedly even given the nod to team up with Ricciardo at the newly-rebranded RB squad for this year, only for Honda to intervene on the part of Yuki Tsunoda to ensure the Japanese driver retained his seat.

Having competed in five Grands Prix, Lawson is no longer eligible to take part in any free practice sessions or to fulfil any rookie driver requirements, and is currently sitting on the sidelines as reserve driver for the two Red Bull squads.

Rumours have recently emerged that RB was set to perform a sensational driver swap to replace the struggling Ricciardo with Lawson – rumours that may now be quelled by the Australian’s much improved showing in Miami as he raced to fourth place in the Sprint race.

But Marko has stated there is, and was, never any intention of replacing Ricciardo at any point, and pointed to Lawson’s management planting the rumour in some New Zealand publications.

“The rumours that Ricciardo will be replaced by Liam Lawson at Imola are nonsense,” Marko wrote in his column for Speedweek after the Miami Grand Prix.

“Liam’s manager from New Zealand was there and, apparently, he has certain dreams and they are made known through some media, including from New Zealand.

“Nothing at all is planned in Imola.”

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But while Marko may not have been impressed by this tactic – if true – the 81-year-old Austrian said Lawson remains a prospect for a seat in 2025.

“But, of course, we will look at this in the future,” Marko said, having previously indicated his admiration for what Lawson achieved during his five-race tenure as an unprepared rookie in 2023.

Speaking at the end of March, Lawson said that he feels “absolutely” ready to step into the RB, and replace whichever driver is given the chop.

“I think Daniel knows that the potential is there, but I’m sure he’s probably expected to step it up,” Lawson said.

“Obviously this year it’s the first in a while where everything is exactly the same [with drivers]. It makes it very tough to get a seat when there are multiple guys. I feel like I’m ready but there’s a lot of other guys there also.

“Ultimately my goal is to get back in that seat as soon as possible.”

But Lawson’s prospects may have taken a slight dip in Miami, at least with the RB squad, as Ricciardo performed far more strongly – the Australian appearing to enjoy something of a resurgence since the team rolled out a new chassis for him at the Chinese Grand Prix.

With both Tsunoda and Ricciardo performing well, Marko praised both for their moments of strength throughout the Miami weekend.

“Daniel also delivered a remarkable performance in the Sprint,” Marko wrote.

“Fourth place was a sensation and he set the fastest time in sector three.

“This sector consists mainly of slow corners. If you drive precisely there, you will gain an incredible amount of time.

“And if you make a mistake, it’s doubly punishing because of the slow speed.”

With Ricciardo falling away in the Grand Prix after a Q1 elimination, and Tsunoda having a role reversal as he raced to seventh in the Grand Prix, Marko explained why the Australian had been out of sorts so quickly after the strong Sprint showing.

“Three hours later, Ricciardo made a mistake [in the sector] where he achieved his fourth place,” Marko highlighted.

“This meant he was out of the window in qualifying and was eliminated in Q1.

“But that wasn’t all, because Ricciardo never got up to speed in the race either.

“Yuki set consistently fast times, while Ricciardo lacked the speed and confidence that was evident in the Sprint.”

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