Liam Lawson’s recent Formula 1 success has created a challenging situation for AlphaTauri, Red Bull’s junior team.
The question is whether they should stick with their current drivers, Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo, or give the Kiwi a fulltime seat after his impressive showings.
Lawson secured AlphaTauri’s best finish of the season at the Singapore GP in just his third F1 race after replacing the injured Ricciardo who is nursing a broken wrist injury.
Reports have emerged that AlphaTauri intends to extend Tsunoda’s contract at the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend and with Ricciardo’s to come in “a few weeks”, fans and pundits have raised questions as to the rationale.
Bob McMurray, a prominent motorsport expert, emphasised that Lawson’s progress has caught the attention of every F1 team. Just a month ago, he was an aspiring F1 driver, and now he has showcased his skills on the Grand Prix stage.
McMurray said that will change not only Lawson’s perspective but the perspective of teams about him.
“They don’t have to wonder about a junior coming in that’s going to throw the car in the wall every five minutes. They know he can do the job.”
Were AlphaTauri to go with Tsunoda and Ricciardo over Lawson, McMurray said it would go against the ethos of what the Red Bull junior team was set up to do - nurture young talent.
“Can you imagine young drivers now thinking well, hang on a minute?”
As for Lawson’s future, if AlphaTauri extends Tsunoda and Ricciardo’s contracts, Formula 1 contracts are known to change swiftly. While it’s uncertain for now, Lawson’s options within Formula 1 seem limited, with Williams being a potential option.
No teams aside from Williams, who have invested significantly in rookie Logan Sargeant but whose patience may be wearing thin after a poor season, stand out as realistic destinations for the young Kiwi.
A loan move for Lawson could get him a fulltime seat at Williams, but the new Williams ownership appears focused on building for the future and would be unlikely to sign Lawson on a one-season deal, for him to return back to AlphaTauri and leave them needing to find a driver again. He’d therefore have to sign on for three or four years and McMurray has doubts Red Bull would want to let a talent like Lawson go for that long.
Were he to be named a reserve driver for AlphaTauri, it’d be somewhat of a back-to-square-one situation for him, particularly if Ricciardo recaptures his best form once his wrist is healed.
“If Ricciardo does come back in [Lawson’s] going to sit back and say, well, I’m buggered now because, as [Lawson] said, you get one chance in this game. This was his chance.”
McMurray says he’d have to do as much testing, running and anything else possible to get miles under his belt in the hopes of another chance but that it “wouldn’t be a sweet pill to swallow”.
A return to Super Formula (which Lawson is fighting to win the championship in this year) next season would, in McMurray’s eyes, be a failure for Lawson.
“I definitely think Liam needs to be in Formula 1... I don’t know what he does next year because doing Super Formula again, if he wins the championship is going to be nothing but a failure for him. You can’t do better than what you’ve done. You either win the championship or lose completely.
“He’s in a rock and a hard place that somebody has to sort out and I think Red Bull has to be instrumental in sorting that out for him.”
Ricciardo had been tipped to make his return to the AlphaTauri car at the Qatar GP following his wrist injury, but F1 journalist Roberto Chincero has reported that Lawson’s opportunity in the seat could be extended to the United States GP in Austin, Texas.
“Daniel was forced to stop starting from the Zandvoort weekend, and his return seems to be increasingly oriented towards the GP of Austin rather than in the previous stop in Qatar.”
That would mean Lawson would have a chance to make the decision even harder for AlphaTauri - and if it’s already been made - a chance to show other teams what the Red Bull junior outfit are missing out on.
McMurray said the decision to stick with Ricciardo over Lawson would send a message to the other junior drivers at Red Bull that regardless of whether they perform, their progression isn’t guaranteed.
“Young drivers coming up in the Red Bull programme, they’re going to think ‘Ok we get all the way to the top and they say, sorry, no room for you.’ That does not look good.”
As far as the immediate future for Lawson, should AlphaTauri go the expected route in extending Tsunoda and Ricciardo, McMurray said Formula 1 contracts can change “in the blink of an eye”.
“I don’t think the answer will be given this weekend. They might announce Tsunoda and Ricciardo, but I don’t think the answer is there for the next year or two.”
That does leave a door open, but, should that situation play out, Lawson has limited options in Formula 1.
Will Toogood is an Online Sports Editor for the NZ Herald. He has previously worked for Newstalk ZB’s digital team and at Waiheke’s Gulf News, covering sport and events.2023-09-21T00:45:15Z dg43tfdfdgfd