UNFORTUNATELY FOR FANS of the ever-jovial Daniel Ricciardo, a broken wrist is set to keep the Aussie out of action for the immediate future. But as they say, where one door closes, another one opens. Liam Lawson took Ricciardo’s place in an impressive outing at the Dutch Grand Prix over the weekend, and Ricciardo’s absence could serve as an opportune audition for the New Zealander to prove he deserves a place in Formula 1.
Only a month after he finally got back in the driver’s seat, Daniel Ricciardo suffered an injury that could derail his quest to solidify his future in F1. During a practice session on Friday, Ricciardo missed a turn and ploughed into safety barriers moments after his compatriot Oscar Piastri did the same. Come on boys, we can’t have Australians getting a reputation as bad drivers.
Far from his usual cheerful self, after the crash Ricciardo made it clear that he was in pain. “Fuck, my hand, fuck,” he could be heard saying on his team’s radio. Excuse the expletives, but to be fair, we probably wouldn’t be keeping it family friendly either if we were involved in a similar high-speed collision.
While Ricciardo’s injury has delivered a rare chink in the driver’s ebullient armour, it’s also allowed the breakthrough his antipodean neighbour has been waiting for—and it’s doubtful Lawson is going to let it slip by without a fight.
New Zealand’s flag doesn’t appear often on the F1 grid anymore. In fact, Lawson’s appearance at the Dutch GP made him just the second Kiwi driver to start an F1 race in the last 30 years. So, let’s get to know F1’s next potential star.
Who is Liam Lawson?
A native of Hastings, New Zealand, Liam Lawson has been working his way up the ranks at Red Bull since 2019, but has previously been overlooked for a spot on the F1 grid. Lawson first garnered attention in karting, which he began at just seven years of age, and has been on the rise since.
In 2021, Lawson narrowly missed out on winning the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters in the last round. In 2022, he finished third in the FIA Formula 2 Championship, and in 2023 he became Red Bull’s reserve driver—technically a cut above Ricciardo, who was the third driver.
Despite an illustrious junior record and impressive performances in the lower formulae, Lawson was overlooked for a spot at AlphaTauri earlier this year. That spot went to Nyck de Vries, who was replaced by Ricciardo, who has now been temporarily replaced by Lawson. Driver’s seats at AlphaTauri really have been a revolving door lately.
How did Liam Lawson do at the Dutch GP?
Not much went right for Lawson at the beginning of his F1 debut. For starters, the New Zealander only had a single practice session before qualifying dead last. And how’s this for a nightmare debut? A sudden downpour minutes before the race’s opening laps meant that track conditions were atrociously slippery, and Lawson immediately found himself stuck behind his teammate in the pits, before receiving a time penalty for impeding another driver. And you though you were having a bad day.
In spite of it all, Lawson persevered and worked his way up the grid to finish 13th. Which isn’t a remarkable finish, but crucially was three places ahead of teammate Yuki Tsunoda—proving that he’s at least as good as his team’s standard.
Asked to describe his confidence in his first F1 performance, Lawson admitted “It was a little bit sketchy.” Nevertheless, Lawson recognised that the Dutch GP, while a veritable baptism by fire, was an opportunity to learn. “I feel like I had experience of every situation in that race with multiple pit stops, wheel-to-wheel racing, rain, dry. So, it was a good learning experience.”
Is Liam Lawson a future star?
Lawson is yet to earn a permanent spot with AlphaTauri for next season, but at the very least he should have a few more races to prove he deserves the coveted role. Lawson finished ahead of his teammate at the Dutch GP, which, for those not familiar with the cutthroat nature of F1, tells his bosses he’s the best they’ve got, and if a driver’s going to be dumped, it shouldn’t be him.
Whether or not we see Lawson maintaining a stand-in role or becoming a more familiar face on the grid, his career so far speaks for itself. With young, potential-oozing drivers coming at a premium, it surely won’t be long before a team snaps up Lawson’s talents.
What happens to Daniel Ricciardo now?
Ricciardo’s injury has implications for the future of AlphaTauri and its parent team, Red Bull. The 34-year-old underwent surgery on his broken wrist yesterday, but it’s currently unknown how long he’ll be out, but with three F1 events next month, time is quickly running out on his comeback.
Ricciardo’s role so far this season has been one of waiting in the wings for someone else to screw up, which happened when Nyck de Vries was sacked midway through the year. Ricciardo has made it clear he wants to eventually return to his former team, Red Bull, and a half-season with AlphaTauri was the ideal opportunity to prove he still has what it takes.
AlphaTauri is in flux, already utilising four different drivers this year. Now that Ricciardo’s been sidelined, Lawson will be looking to nab a permanent spot with the team. Meanwhile, Sergio Perez’s contract with Red Bull expires at the end of 2024. Red Bull, which views AlphaTauri as something of a development program for young drivers, could swoop in and elevate Lawson, Tsunoda, or Ricciardo to race alongside Max Verstappen. Everyone’s entitled to their preferences, but seeing Ricciardo’s smiling mug behind the wheel of F1’s best car again would be our pick of the litter.