Motorsport: Nothing to prove for Kiwi Liam Lawson as wait for Formula One seat continues

On the precipice of what could be the biggest year of his career to date, Formula One hopeful Liam Lawson is enjoying a more relaxed start to 2024.

Despite taking motorsport by storm over the last 12 months - when he broke into the pinnacle of racing - Lawson is not guaranteed a drive this year.

After Red Bull's decision to retain the pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda at Visa Cash App RB (formerly AlphaTauri), Lawson will instead continue as reserve for the outfit's two teams.

That decision was through no fault of the Kiwi.

Liam Lawson and Daniel Ricciardo.
Liam Lawson and Daniel Ricciardo. Photo credit: Getty Images

In September, Newshub revealed Red Bull's decision to overlook Lawson, 21, was made long before he'd driven in Formula One, despite an eye-catching string of results, when he was afforded the opportunity.

Now, pressure is on three Red Bull drivers - Ricciardo, Tsunoda and Sergio Perez - to keep the Kiwi on the sidelines. Red Bull's aggressive nature in replacing drivers on the Formula One grid is no secret.

When Lawson stepped in for an injured Daniel Ricciardo at last year's Dutch Grand Prix, then-AlphaTauri had more drivers than they'd scored points in 2023.

With his displays so far suggesting it's a matter of when - not if - he steps back into Formula One, Lawson admits there's a weight off his shoulders, while he waits for an opportunity.

"It's a different feeling, for sure," he told Newshub. "It's hard to explain, there's probably a little less pressure than normal.

"Normally, at this point of the year, I'm preparing for a season. As a driver trying to get to Formula One, no matter how good your previous seasons are, you're always being evaluated.

"This year, I feel like I probably have less to prove and more 'wait and find out' with my race series. It's a different feeling."

Naturally, Lawson concedes frustration over having to wait for a chance that he's already proven he can take when asked.

This season, until he's told otherwise, Lawson's reserve driver role will see him with Red Bull's two teams at every race weekend, travelling the globe, while unable to get behind the wheel.

Being so close to achieving a lifelong goal, but denied at the final hurdle is a cruel reality for many athletes, Lawson included, but despite his age, the Pukekohe native sees the bigger picture.

"Every driver always thinks about what it would like to be in Formula One," he continued. "Obviously, you have to have enough confidence to get to that level.

"Every driver believes they're good enough, but you never really know for sure, until you're put in that position. Now I have a unique perspective, where I've actually been in it and I have a different view of it now.

"It probably is a bit frustrating, but it doesn't change anything."

Helping Lawson's cause is the fact his results make him arguably Red Bull's most exciting prospect, bar reigning three-time world champion Max Verstappen.

During his third race with AlphaTauri, Lawson achieved a ninth-place finish at Singapore, adding an exclamation mark to his credentials, after knocking Verstappen out of qualifying. That display came after he'd already learned he didn't have a drive for 2024.

Liam Lawson in Singapore.
Liam Lawson in Singapore. Photo credit: Getty Images

Last month, Red Bull's head of driver development Dr Helmut Marko has told German outlet Oe24 he wants to see Lawson behind the wheel before 2025.

By then, a spate of driver contract expiries will trigger a merry-go-round on the Formula One grid and almost certainly see Lawson in a Red Bull seat - if he's not already in one. Despite that, Lawson knows not to get ahead of himself in the race for a fulltime drive.

"Honestly, it's not something I think about," he conceded. "Things change very, very quickly in Formula One - that can be good and bad.

"Obviously, it's good to hear the team is positive about trying to get me in a car, but there's definitely no guarantees in Formula One.  

"For me, I'll be satisfied when I have a piece of paper that says I'm a Formula One driver."