Liam Lawson did more than bag his first F1 points at the Singapore Grand Prix, he also gave Red Bull a major dilemma for 2024.
The 21-year-old New Zealander, in only his third race as stand-in for the injured Daniel Ricciardo, had a superb weekend in Singapore as he converted his first top-10 start into a ninth-place finish.
In doing so, Lawson registered AlphaTauri’s best result of the season and lifted himself above the two drivers that previously occupied his seat in the championship.
Lawson’s calm and collected run to P9 capped off his strongest and most complete F1 weekend yet, which included knocking reigning world champion Max Verstappen’s superior Red Bull out of Q3 with a stunning lap in qualifying.
Even more impressive was the fact Lawson turned in such a performance at a track that is considered one of the toughest on the calendar due to the physicality of the circuit combined with the hot and humid conditions.
Yet Lawson still managed to find fault in just his weekend.
“I need to sort these starts because it’s two weekends in a row now that I’ve lost two spots off the line and it’s just making our life more difficult,” he told Sky after the race.
“Honestly, it’s two slots and around here you can’t overtake. We did the hard work yesterday and put ourselves in Q3 [the final phase of qualifying] and to lose those spots off the line is a bit tricky.”
Lawson has made it clear that his target is to secure a full-time seat for 2024 and his latest showing will only strengthen his case.
“I’ve been beating the drum since before driving in F1 trying to get this shot and now I have this opportunity I’m just trying to maximise it,” he said.
“I have this very short window and I basically want to get to the end of it and look back and know that I’ve done everything I could.
“It’s tricky to get a full time seat in this sport but rather than looking at all those external things for me it’s just focusing on every session, trying to maximise each time I’m in the car and show what I can.”
Red Bull now find themselves with a conundrum over their driver line-up for 2024.
Assuming Sergio Perez continues alongside Verstappen as per his contract, Red Bull have three drivers vying for two available seats at AlphaTauri.
Yuki Tsunoda would have felt fairly confident about retaining his seat for next season prior to Lawson’s arrival, but if the Kiwi outperforms him, Tsunoda’s position may be under threat.
And there is Ricciardo. The Australian’s dream F1 comeback at the expense of the underperforming Nyck de Vries has quickly turned into a nightmare.
Breaking his hand in a rather innocuous-looking crash in a practice session in just his second race back agonisingly forced him back onto the sidelines.
Ricciardo’s misfortune opened the door for Lawson, who so far has grabbed his unlikely chance with both hands. AlphaTauri insist that Ricciardo will return – most likely at Qatar – but the pressure has already intensified.
The Australian was still getting up to speed even before his injury, which has placed further question marks over how long it will take before he is back to his best. Will Ricciardo have enough time to stake his claim for one of the seats?
The remaining seven races of the year will ultimately determine whether AlphaTauri field a combination of Tsunoda and Ricciardo, Tsunoda and Lawson, or Ricciardo and Lawson next season.
If Lawson were to miss out on a full-time berth at AlphaTauri, there could be another option for next season.
Fellow rookie Logan Sargeant continues to show little sign of improvement and endured another miserable weekend in his 15th grand prix with a performance that will do little for his chances of retaining his Williams seat for a second campaign.
Amid the uncertainty over Sargeant’s future, Williams may be tempted to take a punt on Lawson.
Such a move would require Red Bull’s blessing but could be feasible given Red Bull placed Alex Albon at Williams for 2022 in a deal that initially saw him retain his links to the energy drinks firm. A loan-type arrangement may benefit both parties.
After his starring display, expectations will undoubtedly be higher for Lawson this weekend in Japan at a Suzuka circuit he has already driven this year during his Super Formula exploits.
Keyword: Impressive Liam Lawson has already given Red Bull a dilemma for F1 2024 - what will they do?