Motorsport: Japanese switch fuels Kiwi Liam Lawson's push for 2024 Formula One seat

Seeking a route into Formula One, Kiwi Liam Lawson is prepared to walk the less-trodden path.

Despite a 2022 season that saw him finish third in Formula Two - traditionally considered as the feeder series into Formula One - Red Bull junior driver Lawson was overlooked for a seat in motorsport's pinnacle.

But rather than try the same thing again, Lawson is seeking an alternative route and trading Europe for Asia - switching to the Japanese Super Formula series in 2023.

Liam Lawson in the Red Bull cockpit at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Liam Lawson in the Red Bull cockpit at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Photo credit: Getty Images

The 20-year-old is joining reigning champions Team Mugen, as he aims to impress the decision makers at Red Bull, in hopes of an F1 spot in 2024.

Switching from F2 to Japan isn't unheard of, especially within Red Bull's ranks.

Pierre Gasly made the move in 2017 before an F1 switch one year later to Toro Rosso - now Alpha Tauri - the same team Lawson will aim to break into.

And with a clear example in front of him, Lawson is anticipating the next and biggest challenge of his career under Red Bull's direction to make the move into Super Formula.

"For me, it's super exciting," Lawson told Newshub. "It's a championship that's not looked at as highly as it should be, or forgotten about a little bit, because it's not on the pathway in Europe, like F2 or F3.

"But it's a really good championship. The cars are really quick - quicker than F2 - so for me the step up in performance is better for preparation for F1 as well.

"Obviously I've done one test, and I really enjoyed it."

Aside from a change of scenery, Lawson will also undergo a change in expectation.

Partnering defending champion Tomoko Nojiri, Lawson isn't wanted just to make up the numbers in Japan, and will be expected to contribute as Team Mugen bid for another title.

But the challenge of moving from F2, where car specifications are largely similar to allow for more competitive racing, to a champion Super Formula team is just the challenge Lawson wants.

"It's more exciting than anything. I go in knowing the team is capable of winning races and fighting for the championship.

Liam Lawson celebrates a Formula Two victory.
Liam Lawson celebrates a Formula Two victory. Photo credit: Getty Images

"I have the best driver as a teammate with [Tomoki] Nojiri winning twice now. I have access to the quickest guy's data to look at and learn [from]. 

"For me, it's going to be about learning as quickly as possible. We don't have much testing and it's so different that I need to be up to speed as quickly as possible."

The Kiwi doesn't have to look too far for inspiration either.

Aside from Gasly, who Lawson worked with in his role as a reserve driver for Alpha Tauri in 2022, compatriot Nick Cassidy has also been lending a helping hand to his fellow Kiwi.

As one of the most underrated drivers New Zealand has ever produced, Cassidy won Super Formula in 2019, and is happy to pass on all he knows.

And for Lawson there'll be little time to adjust, racing against competitors years his senior.

But being thrown in the deep end is all the preparation Lawson wants if he's to continue to push towards Formula One.

"He learnt how to be really successful there," Lawson said of Cassidy. "He's been really helpful to me. For next year, it's going to be really important, because [I need to] get up to speed quickly. 

"It takes most guys quite a bit of time [to adjust]. Pierre went there and struggled for the first bit, but by the end was winning races.

Liam Lawson driving for Alpha Tauri at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Liam Lawson driving for Alpha Tauri at the Belgian Grand Prix. Photo credit: Getty Images

"It's very hard to be quick there. The Japanese drivers are very experienced, some of them have seven or eight years of [racing] those tracks, most of them have grown up driving there.

"It's hard to jump straight in, but for Formula One it's a better step. The car is faster, honestly, especially in high-speed sections, it feels like we're driving a Formula One car.

"It's definitely a better preparation step than F2."

While yet to reach Formula One, Lawson is no stranger to life in the shoes of one of the world's best drivers.

Already in 2022, Lawson has tested for Alpha Tauri - twice - before jumping into the cockpit of world champion Max Verstappen at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last month.

And with his role as a Red Bull reserve driver to continue, while far from the real thing, is another incentive for the young Kiwi to continue on his path.

"Doing the reserve role is really good. Formula One is such a step up in so many ways, until you're actually involved and being part of it, you can't really learn.

"It's impossible to really prepare for it, outside of it. There's simulator work and things like that, but there's so much more than driving the car you need to step up in, until you actually get to go to the races and learn - that's been the most beneficial part about being reserve.

"It's frustrating, because we're watching and I want to be driving. But when I go to Formula One, I want to be as ready as possible."

Lawson will switch between his Formula One reserve role and Super Formula, which begins in March 2023.