Motorsport: Kiwi Liam Lawson finishes second fastest in first F1 drive, impresses AlphaTauri head

Kiwi Liam Lawson has moved a step closer to the pinnacle of motorsport, after an impressive first stint in a Formula One car - and claiming the scalp of 2021 champion Max Verstappen.

Lawson, 19, has completed 125 laps of the Yas Marina circuit at Abu Dhabi in an AlphaTauri, opening the eyes of some very important people with his undoubted ability behind the wheel.

Driving for Red Bull Racing’s junior academy, Lawson finished ninth in the 2021 F2 championship, scoring two race wins in a season when he was hampered by bad luck and mechanical failures.

But his raw speed has been unquestioned and was on show again with the Alpha Tauri team in his first taste of a F1 car.

The Hastings teengaer was blown away with achieving the second fastest time in the post-season test, which was topped by Formula E champion Nyck De Vries in Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes.

Lawson was more than a second down on the Mercedes reserve driver, but put some big names behind him.

While the testing programmes varied between cars, the eye-opening level of talent trailing the Kiwi on the timesheets, including Verstappen, F2 champion Oscar Piastri, Aussie ace Daniel Ricciardo, Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, 2021 AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda and in-coming Mercedes recruit George Russell.

"What an amazing day," Lawson says. "It's incredible how unbelievably fast these cars are.

"I've obviously driven in the simulator before and when I'm there, I always think that there's no way that the car can actually be that quick in real life, but it really is. 

"This has been something that I've been dreaming about since I was a kid, so it's just incredible and I'm really, really happy."

And the Kiwi flyer impressed chief race engineer Jonathan Eddolls, who led Pierre Gasly to AlphaTauri's first Grand Prix win at Monza in 2020.

Eddolls says Lawson has a "bright future" in the sport and his adaptability will serve him well.

"He adapted quickly to the handling and speed of the current Formula 1 machinery, and after just the first couple of runs, he had built up the pace to a level where we could start to complete some test items with him, to give him a feel of the car with a variety of car balances," Eddolls says.

"We did the tests blind, so that he had no preconceived ideas, and his technical feedback was targeted, focused on performance and aligned to the test items.

"Tyres are an important part of Formula 1, especially managing them over a race stint, but also a single timed lap, so we exposed Liam to a variety of tyre status, run types and fuel loads.

"By the end of the day, he was able to manage and manipulate the temperatures to achieve the optimum lap time. It was a pleasure working with him, and we can already see from this short working relationship that he has great potential and will have a very bright future in motorsport."

Motorsport: Kiwi Liam Lawson finishes second fastest in first F1 drive, impresses AlphaTauri head
Photo credit: Image - Twitter / Alpha Tauri

Lawson admits to nerves before his big drive, but says he felt at home after a few laps in a car that could be a glimpse into his future.

French No.1 Gasly is off contract at the end of the 2022 season and is reportedly courted by several teams, including Alpine and Aston Martin, while he could also return to Red Bull in 2023 to partner Verstappen.

Lawson, who's time of 1.24.517s was nearly three seconds down on Verstappen's fastest lap during Monday's Grand Prix, would be the logical fit to partner with Tsunoda, who is one of his best friends. 

"The biggest difference is just the downforce," he says. "There's significantly more than anything I'm used to.

"We worked on a lot of different things in the run plan today, both short and long runs with different tyres, and one thing that was really cool and new to me was the live data.

"The ability to have the team update me as I'm out on track was something new to me. Getting feedback from Yuki too was also really great.

"We've been teammates before, so it was good to get his understanding and learnings, and it was nice to be back driving with him again.

"I really didn't want to get out of the car today - it's been amazing to get my first taste of F1."