Motorsport: Replacement stint reinvigorates Liam Lawson's quest for fulltime Formula One seat

This weekend, Kiwi driver Liam Lawson will try to put a ribbon on his landmark 2023, when he returns to the Super Formula track with a chance to steal the driver's championship in the final race of the season in Japan.

Fortuitously, Lawson's promotion to Formula One for a five-drive stint as an injury replacement with AlphaTauri coincided perfectly with a hiatus in the schedule.  

Currently sitting second in the overall driver standings, he'll have a chance to sneak through and grab the spoils in the final race in Suzuka on Sunday.

"It's hugely important," Lawson told Newshub.

"Formula One completely took my focus - it completely consumes your world. There's nothing really else that you have time to think about.

"I was still in touch with my Super Formula but we didn't have time to go through what we'd normally go through, so I've been getting back to that this week and basically preparing for our last race now.

"We've had a pretty good season and it's important I finish on a high as well."

In his maiden year with Team Mugen, the Hastings product has taken Super Formula by storm, announcing his arrival by beating defending champion and teammate Tomoki Nojiri to become the first debut winner in Japanese top formula racing in 45 years.

Liam Lawson after one of his Super Formula wins.
Liam Lawson after one of his Super Formula wins. Photo credit: Getty Images

The popular conception in regards to motorsport's pecking order is that Formula 2 is the logical precursor to Formula One. But according to Lawson, his experiences in both Super Formula and as a reserve driver have prepared him far better for the big league than F2.

"I think the gap at the moment from F2 to F1 is a bit too big. It's actually way too big. It's really large.

"It's not just down to the car. Obviously it's a massive amount faster – but it's the way the car drives and also everything else around it.

"It’s a massive organisation youre working with a lot more engineers. The set up of the car is way, way more complex - if you were to step straight into it, I think you'd have no chance initially

"Doing Super Formula, it's a championship where the setup is a lot closer to F1 and you're working with a bigger team than F2.

"It massively helped prepare me. Nothing will ever be F1 – it's the pinnacle by a long way - but Super Formula bridged that gap."

And the results don’t lie. Lawson slotted into the injured Daniel Ricciardo's seat and made an instant impact on motorsport's biggest stage.  

The 21-year-old finished ahead of teammate Yuki Tsunoda four times in his five races and secured AlphaTauri's best result of the season with ninth at the Singapore Grand Prix.   

He'll reprise his role as reserve driver with Red Bull and AlphaTauri next season, when there will be no time with dalliances with any other class of racing.

Liam Lawson.
Liam Lawson. Photo credit: Getty Images

His stellar F1 debut has shone a glaring spotlight on his potential, meaning Lawson will shoulder a bigger load as a super sub when he rejoins Red Bull next week to continue his evolution as a driver.

So, what does being a reserve driver actually involve?

"Honestly, it's very similar to being a driver, you just don't drive the car. You still go to the events, you are in all of the media things, the debriefs, the meetings before the session and then during the session I'm in the garage with the engineers with a headset on, watching and listening.

"It's why it's such a great thing to do before driving F1 because you basically get to learn what it's like to be a driver without actually doing it.

After the highs of his experiences at the wheel and on the grid, Lawson admits returning to that back-up spot will have a slightly bittersweet tinge to it.

But it's also ignited a new level of desire. While the effusive praise from the likes of boss Christian Horner - who says it's inevitable Lawson will achieve his goal – are always nice to hear, he insists he won't rest until that seat is his.

"In this situation it's a bit tough to go back because I've driven, and now to go back to reserve is going to a be a bit tough.

"In F1 things can change really quickly, but I won't be content until I have a contract in my hands and know that I'm a fulltime driver."

A lot can change in the space of two months, when Lawson went from feeling his F1 chances were "slipping away" to suddenly finding himself as one of the sport's most promising young drivers.

"At least I've had a shot. Two months ago, I definitely wasn't in a position this strong and I probably wasn't really looking at F1 as much.

"To be honest, I felt it slipping away a little bit. So this opportunity that I've just been given has been really important for the future, and for me, it was about making the most of it and getting to the end of it knowing I did everything I could and I think I we've nearly achieved that. Now it's just about waiting and seeing.

"But until I know I'm locked into driving in a fulltime seat, that's when I'll be satsified."