Liam Lawson may only be getting his first taste of Formula 1 by chance, but the young Kiwi has more than earned it in the eyes of many. As a recognised member of the illustrious Red Bull driver academy, Lawson has had his card marked for a F1 seat throughout his rise through the ranks — setting a unique record on the way by winning on debut in eight out of the nine categories he’s raced in. While a win with AlphaTauri is doubtful, his reserve role does give him a chance to prove himself and live up to his impressive resume.
Early racing career
Born in New Zealand, Lawson began racing life, like most, strapped to a go-kart. His first taste of single-seaters came in 2015 in Formula First Winter Series, where he wasted no time making an impression — scoring one win, one pole position and ten podium finishes on his way to second in the championship standings. A move to Formula Ford in 2016 yielded even better results: starting all 15 races from pole, setting the fastest lap in each and winning 14 events in total, becoming the youngest champion the series had ever had in the process.
In 2018, he left New Zealand and began racing in Australian Formula 4. Despite the heightened competition, the story remained the same: finishing runner-up in his first season with three victories, besting Enzo Fittipaldi and Frederik Vesti.
At 17, he joined the Red Bull Junior Academy and continued his climb toward success, entering Formula 3 in 2019. Here, the Kiwi faced his toughest challenge, and ultimately finished eleventh in the standings by the end of his first season. But, like all future stars do, Lawson quickly improved: finishing second in the EuroFormula Open series and fifth in his second season of Formula 3 in 2020.
Formula 2 and DTM
His impressive performance earned further promotion into the Toyota Racing Series — finishing second once again — and then DTM and Formula 2 in 2021, competing in both simultaneously. Lawson had victories in both categories, his first naturally coming on debut in Bahrain (F2) and in Monza (DTM). The Kiwi’s versatility impressed over the course of the year, ultimately finishing second in DTM with Red Bull AF Corse but fell to eleventh in F2 with Hitech GP.
An improved focus on F2 in 2022 yielded better results, finishing third, second and then first in the first three races of the season. A small dip in mid-season form saw Lawson tumble down the standings before a late surge saw him catapult back up to third, finishing 116 points shy of eventual champion Felipe Drugovich. Despite his efforts, Lawson was not granted promotion into F1 for 2023, leaving him to pursue other options.
Super Formula and Formula 1
Lawson stepped into an F1 car for the first time in 2021, taking part in a young driver test after the season finale in Abu Dhabi. He impressed once again and was named the official reserve driver for the team but needed to find a full-time seat in another series before getting his shot in F1. That’s where the Super Formula series came in — Japan’s answer to elite level motor sport.
Racing for Team Mugen, Lawson was an instant sensation, winning on debut again in Fuji over a field of highly established drivers. Winning again in Autopolis and and once more in Fuji means the Kiwi currently sits second in the drivers’ standings, but ultimately he had done enough to receive a call elsewhere.
After Daniel Ricciardo broke his hand at Zandvoort, Lawson was called up as his replacement for the Dutch Grand Prix — a debut many believed to be long overdue. Signs of nerves could be seen early as he qualified 20th for Sunday’s race, but after just one practice session, the bar was not set exceptionally high. Nevertheless, Lawson surpassed it.
Driving with experience beyond his years, Lawson finished a strong thirteenth — two places clear of temporary team-mate Yuki Tsunoda. In Monza, he took one step further, qualifying twelfth and besting Tsunoda again to finish just shy of the points on race day.
Rumours of a full-time contract are already beginning to stir, but with an already packed grid, only time will tell just where Lawson will end up in 2024.