Odds lengthen as Lawson chases 2024 F1 seat
By Mat Coch
Friday 22nd September, 2023 - 6:00am
Yuki Tsunoda is tipped to be confirmed at Scuderia AlphaTauri for 2024 consigning Liam Lawson to another year on the sidelines.
Lawson has performed admirably since substituting for Daniel Ricciardo, who broke his hand during practice for the Dutch Grand Prix.
The New Zealander scored Scuderia AlphaTauri’s best result of the year in Singapore last time out and cannot be ignored in the conversation for a full-time drive next season.
However, with Tsunoda poised to remain for a fourth year, and Ricciardo also expected to continue, there looks to be no room at the inn.
Speculation has suggested that Tsunoda’s 2024 programme will be confirmed by Scuderia AlphaTauri this weekend.
Nothing was forthcoming during the media day at Suzuka yesterday, though the Japanese driver spoke assertively when Speedcafe asked about his future.
“We’ll see soon. You’ll know soon,” he responded when asked how confident he was that he wouldn’t miss out on a drive for 2024.
It was a short but telling statement.
He did not feel the need to justify himself, implying his future is known and he’s comfortable with it.
It was not the reaction of a driver looking to talk up his own performances or abilities in an attempt to sell himself.
Of course, that could simply be good media management but it’s not the only piece of the puzzle.
Lawson has been loathed to speak about 2024, batting such questions away by saying that he’s been too busy to discuss his future – which is nonsense, but what else can he say?
“There hasn’t been a huge amount of time to discuss future things like that,” he said on Thursday.
“But on what’s happened so far it’s been pretty positive.
“The message for me, it’s just been to keep my head down now and try and keep delivering until obviously things clear up and this opportunity that I have ends when Daniel comes back.”
Lawson’s comments are those of someone with something to prove, not one who has his 2024 locked down.
He’s currently living a hand-to-mouth existence in F1 and knows full well it could all be over next week.
As a result, he’s working hard to maximise his chances of remaining – if not in the short term, at least returning in the not-too-distant future.
That involves him not only delivering on track, but not courting controversy off it. Others within the Red Bull driver programme have done that in the past, and it didn’t end well.
What’s fascinating is to contrast Lawson’s comments and position against Tsunoda’s response, and the confidence and comfort that’s being exuded from the Ricciardo camp.
Lawson looks the least comfortable. He looks the odd man out.
Tsunoda explained it well when outlining the virtues his two most recent team-mates bring to the table.
“Daniel brings definitely more experience,” he began.
“And he showed a lot of feedback, comparison, he’s got really good kind of… Yeah, he definitely can tell more details about how the car is behaving.
“It helps a lot for the engineers and I think engineers like it, especially how he talks and how he helped the development side, so if the team wants to develop the car more to be competitive, maybe Daniel.
“But at the same time, Liam, I think he showed in the first three races that immediately he showed the good performance and probably he’s still progressing.
“So on the performance side… Obviously, I’ve just done, with Daniel, two races, and it was not really probably the best time for AlphaTauri as well.
“And in the last two when Liam actually came into the Formula 1, the car was pretty good – Monza and Singapore – so actually, he had a good time as well.
“At the same time, he definitely performed well.
“I think there is a bit more risk [in that] if we think about the results in general, so… Yeah, depends on what they are thinking.
“If they want more results, probably Daniel would probably be more easier. He has more experience, especially, maybe, he can extract those results maybe, but also Liam, you know… I don’t know. I probably… It’s hard. I’m scared to say…”
Lawson knows his chances of a race seat are far better with Red Bull’s help than not.
He’s been fortunate in the first instance to get the opportunity he currently has, and can rightly say that he has maximised what he’s been given.
That has in turn created the situation where he cannot be ignored against drivers with vastly more experience, and that is an absolute credit to him.
But now is not the time to go against the company. Red Bull has shown with Ricciardo that, for its famed brutality, it has a loyalty side too and it rewards hard work.
Lawson has those boxes ticked, so one would safely suggest that should he not be on the grid for 2024, he’d be there in 2025.
That’s a realisation the New Zealander seems to have already come to as well, though it’s unlikely one that sits with him easily.
“I wouldn’t be happy to go back to being reserve [driver], but obviously, I know how hard it is to get into Formula 1, I understand that that can be really difficult sometimes,” he said.
“Obviously, what will happen will happen but these things I just haven’t really thought about too much. I’m just trying to make the most of this.”