Opinion: Putting Kiwi Liam Lawson's Formula One debut in context after 13th place at Dutch Grand Prix

OPINION: While a 13th-place Formula One debut for Kiwi Liam Lawson might not seem that impressive to the untrained eye, the rookie's effort was nothing short of incredible.

Lawson, 21, was shoehorned into the AlphaTauri car at the last minute on Saturday morning (NZ time), after a broken bone in the hand of Australian fan-favourite Daniel Ricciardo.

Starting from the back of the grid at the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, the Red Bull junior got through a chaotic race in one piece and only missed the points by three places.

In terms of experience, Lawson was obviously the greenest driver on the grid, but also the youngest. 

Liam Lawson in qualifying with AlphaTauri.
Liam Lawson in qualifying with AlphaTauri. Photo credit: Getty Images

In fact, when Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin made his Formula One debut in 2001, Lawson wasn't even born.

While Red Bull stablemate Max Verstappen rightly takes the headlines for winning his home race, Lawson should be equally as proud.

In an uncompetitive car - not forgetting AlphaTauri have had more drivers (four) than points (three) this season - Lawson did not look out of place for a second.

The first point of reference in motorsport is how a given driver fared against their teammate, rather than the racewinner.

In his first taste of Formula One, Lawson's finish saw him home four positions clear of Yuki Tsunoda, who boasts more than 50 races of experience in motorsport's pinnacle.

As well as his teammate, Lawson also crossed the line ahead of Valtteri Bottas (14th), George Russell (17th) and Charles Leclerc (did not finish). All three of those drivers are proven racewinners, with Russell and Leclerc widely regarded as the future of the sport.

Not bad for a lad from Pukekohe.

Motorsport - and in particular Formula One - is about so much more than just turning up on raceday.

It takes days, if not weeks of preparation to get ready for a race - learning the track, understanding the limits of your car and of yourself as a driver - to completely come to terms with what's possible once the lights go out.

Ricciardo's accident and subsequent unavailability came at the worst possible time for Lawson, who was afforded no such preparation time. 

Liam Lawson, competes with Charles Leclerc of Ferrari.
Liam Lawson, competes with Charles Leclerc of Ferrari. Photo credit: Getty Images

After completing the first practice session on Friday, Ricciardo crashed in the second, robbing Lawson of an entire day behind the wheel of the AlphaTauri - a car he hadn't driven in 2023.

What's more, come Lawson's first taste behind the wheel on Sunday morning (NZ time), conditions had deteriorated to a blanket of rain over the track, putting the Kiwi behind the wheel in horrible conditions on the tricky intermediate tyres.

Come qualifying, Lawson's inexperience showed, as he failed to reach the second session and wound up at the back of the grid.

Luckily, races aren't driven in qualifying. Putting a bad session behind you is one of the most important mental qualities of a driver, doing your talking on the track is another.

Lawson did both in spades overnight and has all but guaranteed he'll be back in the AlphaTauri again, come next weekend's Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Ricciardo's just had surgery and Red Bull's unlikely to divert from building for the future.

They have backed Lawson thus far and with good reason. His move to Japanese Super Formula at the start of the year has shown he has what it takes to compete for championships, sitting eight points off the lead with two races to go this season.

Neither Ricciardo nor Tsunoda are contracted to AlphaTauri beyond 2023, with Lawson a shoe-in to move to Formula One fulltime should Red Bull make a change.

Yes, a 13th place finish will hardly stand out on his CV by the end of his career, but make no mistake, he's shown he belongs at the highest level.

Lawson has added his name to the now 10-strong list of Kiwis to compete in Formula One. New Zealand has in the past enjoyed immense success on the world stage, with names like Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon iconic in the sport.

Not since Brendon Hartley - fittingly for the same Red Bull sister team in 2018 - have we had a New Zealander get behind the wheel until Lawson’s debut. 

Zandvoort will always be his first taste of Formula One, but it definitely won't be his last.

Alex Powell is a Newshub Sport digital producer