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Lawson handed Red Bull test drive in new twist for F1 seat

Alex Powell,
Publish Date
Sun, 7 Jul 2024, 2:34pm

Lawson handed Red Bull test drive in new twist for F1 seat

Alex Powell,
Publish Date
Sun, 7 Jul 2024, 2:34pm

In a potential sign of his future in Formula One, New Zealand’s Liam Lawson will complete a Red Bull test drive next week, following the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on Monday.

Lawson, 22, is fighting to secure a seat in Formula One next season with Racing Bulls - the sister outfit of the world champion Red Bull team.

Over the coming week, Lawson will get behind the wheel of Red Bull’s RB20 car, and have 200km to show his worth during a filming day, where the team can make use of extra time on track for promotional purposes. Specific Pirelli tyres must also be used for the test day.

Given Silverstone is just shy of 6km in length, Lawson will get roughly 34 laps in the Red Bull car.

However, despite the notion of the drive being used for promotional purposes, it’s important to note a similar scenario in mid-2023 resulted in Red Bull making a mid-season switch that saw Australian Daniel Ricciardo in the seat for Dutchman Nyck de Vries at the same track.

While it was initially postulated Lawson was competing with Ricciardo for a place at Racing Bulls, speculation has quickly moved towards Red Bull driver Sergio Perez.

Even as partner to world champion Max Verstappen, Perez has struggled to replicate the form of his teammate, despite signing a new contract with Red Bull this season.

Of the 355 constructors championship points that Red Bull have accrued this season, Perez is responsible for just 118 of them, to sit fifth in the championship - 119 points behind his teammate, in the same type of car. That 119 point gap is the largest disparity between teammates this season across any of the 10 teams.

And despite four podium finishes in the first five Grand Prix of the year, Perez’s recent run of results since re-signing have only resulted in a best finish of eighth.

Perez’s display at Silverstone, where he qualified 19th of 20 drivers in the championship-leading car, will have also done nothing to ease pressure.

Red Bull Racing drivers Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. Photo / AP
Red Bull Racing drivers Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. Photo / AP

While it was mooted that any change in Racing Bulls’ driver line-up would see a straight swap between Lawson and Ricciardo, it would not be inconceivable that Perez be the man to make way, and instigate a reshuffle across Red Bull Racing’s two teams.

In that case, Lawson would still be moved into Racing Bulls, while one of Ricciardo or Yuki Tsunoda would step up into Red Bull to replace Perez. In theory, Lawson could also be moved straight into the senior team, however Red Bull moving a rookie in to partner Verstappen could be considered highly unlikely.

Ricciardo’s return to Red Bull through AlphaTauri and now Racing Bulls in 2023 was largely seen as an audition to move into the senior team, and partner Verstappen as he did before leaving to join Renault – now Alpine – in 2019.

In Perez’s favour, though, are huge commercial ties to his native Mexico, with the Mexican Grand Prix at the end of October, and significant financial returns that come with it.

Ricciardo is heavily backed by Red Bull senior team principal Christian Horner, due to his commercial appeal to the sport. It’s understood that Visa, Racing Bulls’ chief sponsor, are only with the team because of Ricciardo.

Should that prove to be the case, seeing Perez make way for a reshuffle could ultimately be the dream scenario for Red Bull.

Lawson has patiently waited on the sidelines all season, after impressing in a five-race stint with AlphaTauri last year when Ricciardo broke his hand at the Dutch Grand Prix.

Liam Lawson at the 2023 Singapore Grand Prix. Photo / Getty Images
Liam Lawson at the 2023 Singapore Grand Prix. Photo / Getty Images

However, those performances came with Red Bull having already confirmed their Racing Bulls line-up for 2024, as both Ricciardo and Tsunoda were already signed for this season.

Since then, though, sentiment has been when and not if Lawson will step into Racing Bulls, due to his place as the reserve driver for both of Red Bull’s two teams.

Red Bull senior adviser Dr Helmut Marko, who oversees the team’s driver development programme, is a known admirer of Lawson, and told Austrian outlet Kleine Zeitung there is pressure from shareholders to see a younger driver fill the second Racing Bulls seat.

After last weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix, Marko doubled down on his comments, and told German outlet Bild “we will offer him something. A cockpit for next year.”

Lawson’s current contract contains a release clause that means he is free to join another team in 2025, should Red Bull fail to offer him a seat for 2025.

European media reported last month that Audi, who will enter the sport in 2026, were interested in Lawson, should they fail to acquire their top target, outgoing Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz.

Likewise, Red Bull are understood to be hesitant to lose Lawson, and therefore waste the millions they have invested in his development.

The team have backed the Kiwi through junior categories Formula Three, Formula Two and the Japanese Super Formula championship.

Lawson’s management told the Herald they were unaware of Red Bull’s intentions for the Kiwi but expected to learn by Formula One’s upcoming mid-season break.

Alex Powell is an Online Sports Editor for the NZ Herald. He has been a sports journalist since 2016, and previously worked for both Newshub and 1News.

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