Red Bull junior Liam Lawson cranks up the pressure with debut win

Jamie Woodhouse
Liam Lawson at the Hungarian Grand Prix. Budapest, July 2022.

Red Bull's Liam Lawson at the Hungarian Grand Prix. Budapest, July 2022.

Liam Lawson wasted no time in reaching the top step of the podium over in Japan, which will certainly keep the AlphaTauri F1 drivers on their toes.

After a couple of seasons in Formula 2 under the watch of the Red Bull Junior Team, Lawson was a contender to step up to the F1 2023 grid, since Pierre Gasly’s move to Alpine had created an opening at Red Bull’s sister team AlphaTauri.

Red Bull decided though to bring Nyck de Vries into the fold after an impressive one-off outing with Williams at the 2022 Italian GP, meaning a different roadmap was needed for Lawson.

So, off the back of a P3 finish in the 2022 F2 standings, a season which produced four race wins, Lawson headed over to Japan to contest the 2023 Super Formula campaign with Team Mugen.

And he made himself a race winner there at the very first attempt, taking the chequered flag at Fuji Speedway in the opening race of the season, part of a double-header of races at the venue which hosted the Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix most recently back in 2007 and 2008.

For comparison, Gasly also raced in Super Formula back in 2017, the year which he was promoted to a Toro Rosso F1 drive, winning two races during his season in Japan. But, that very rare debut victory was not something which he managed.

Reflecting on his achievement of being the first driver to win on debut in this incarnation of Japan’s top open-wheel racing series, Lawson told “It’s not really sunk in yet, honestly!

“Very happy with the result, but talking about the history, it’s not something I had thought about beforehand.

“It’s cool to have that now, but before the race you just focus on doing the best job possible. If you look at that stuff, you can get ahead of yourself.

“The car just came to me, it felt really good. The balance was very even, I could keep pushing and didn’t have too much of an issue.

“This morning [in qualifying] it’s hard to say whether the car was perfect or not, because I was still learning the track. There’s more laptime in the car and now I have more experience I can hopefully be a bit more comfortable tomorrow [for the second race].

“I expect tomorrow to be extremely tough. But the strongest point was the race pace; once everything settled down the balance was very strong.” recommends

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Nyck de Vries in danger if Liam Lawson keeps impressing

Considering AlphaTauri’s continued struggles at the start of F1 2023 to match Red Bull’s expectations, and the apparent lingering threat of a revamp of the team, there is a real possibility that Lawson could find an opening presents itself for F1 2024.

And if AlphaTauri were to change one of their drivers, then based on the opening three rounds of the campaign, De Vries has a lot of work to do if he is to convince Red Bull that it should not be him who makes way.

The former Formula E and F2 champ’s full-time arrival on the grid was highly anticipated, but while the lacklustre AT04 is not helping matters, De Vries just is not yet delivering the kind of performances that many expected.

Team boss Franz Tost has been talking about De Vries’ team-mate Yuki Tsunoda as a potential future Red Bull driver in the coming years, but as for De Vries, it feels like he needs to step it up a notch if he wants to convince that he is a driver for AlphaTauri’s future, never mind Red Bull.