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Liam Lawson in two-way shootout for 2025 F1 seat as another domino falls

Alex Powell,
Publish Date
Sun, 9 Jun 2024, 2:42pm

Liam Lawson in two-way shootout for 2025 F1 seat as another domino falls

Alex Powell,
Publish Date
Sun, 9 Jun 2024, 2:42pm

New Zealand’s Liam Lawson appears in a two-way shootout for a 2025 Formula One seat with Red Bull, after Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda penned a one-year contract extension.

With the series currently in Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix, Red Bull announced 24-year-old Tsunoda had joined Sergio Perez in committing to the organisation beyond the current season.

While Tsunoda’s link to Red Bull, and sister affiliate Racing Bulls, is cemented through ties to both teams’ engine supplier Honda, his re-signing is another blow to Lawson’s aspirations.

His and Perez’s re-signings earlier this week go alongside current world champion Max Verstappen, himself signed through until the end of 2028, and leaves just one seat left across Red Bull’s two teams.

Lawson, 22, is highly regarded by Red Bull’s head of driver development Dr Helmut Marko. But now more than ever, politics could outweigh performance, and see the Kiwi in a contest with Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo at Racing Bulls for 2025.

While Lawson has the backing of Marko, Ricciardo has similar support from Red Bull’s senior team principal Christian Horner. The two key figures are understood to be at odds over the future of Red Bull’s two teams.

In part, this is down to the off-track value that Ricciardo brings not just to Red Bull, but the sport as a whole.

Since 2019, Ricciardo has been a central figure in Netflix’s Drive to Survive documentary series, which has seen Formula One’s popularity explode.

Liam Lawson has been acting as Red Bull's reserve driver in 2024, so far. Photo / Getty Images
Liam Lawson has been acting as Red Bull's reserve driver in 2024, so far. Photo / Getty Images

In particular, the series has opened the door for Formula One to break through into the American market - with no fewer than three separate Grand Prix on the calendar from 2023 onwards in the USA.

After he was effectively sacked by McLaren in 2022, Red Bull wasted no time in handing Ricciardo an ambassadorial role, before moving him into the Racing Bulls - formerly AlphaTauri - cockpit in mid 2023.

The financial backing that Ricciardo brings to the team through sponsorship and advertising cannot be understated.

The Herald understands internal pressure was put on Ricciardo to improve earlier this year, a challenge which the Australian has largely answered.

However, last year, as Ricciardo suffered a broken hand at the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, Lawson was thrust into the car and impressed from the word go.

For five races, Lawson impressed behind the wheel for AlphaTauri, and beat Tsunoda in four.

Those results included a ninth-placed finish at Singapore, where Lawson also eliminated Verstappen from qualifying, a feat which no Red Bull stablemate has been able to consistently achieve before and after. Lawson’s ninth-place was AlphaTauri’s best result of 2023, until Tsunoda managed eighth in Las Vegas in the season’s penultimate race.

However, Red Bull moved to sign both Ricciardo and Tsunoda for 2024 before Lawson stepped into the car, and left the Kiwi with no seat and having to fill a reserve role for this year at the very least.

The Herald understands Lawson’s current contract contains an exit clause, which leaves him free to negotiate with other teams after a specific date, should he not have a contract for 2025.

While Ricciardo is an eight-time race winner, results in 2024 have not justified the backing he currently receives.

Of the seven Grand Prix so far this season, Ricciardo has beaten Tsunoda just once, and been unqualified by his teammate on six occasions.

Liam Lawson at the Qatar Grand Prix. Photo / Getty Images
Liam Lawson at the Qatar Grand Prix. Photo / Getty Images

Tsunoda has finished in the points in five Grand Prix this season, sitting 10th in the championship. Ricciardo sits 14th, with his only points coming from a sprint race in Miami.

On Sunday (NZ time), Ricciardo did manage to qualify fifth in Canada, putting him on course for his best Grand Prix result of the season.

However, should Ricciardo view his time with Racing Bulls as an opportunity to return to the Red Bull senior team, he’ll now have to wait until he’s 36 at the earliest, given Perez’s renewal.

Lawson has stated from the outset his preference would be to stay with Red Bull.

The team have backed Lawson since his teens, and seen him through junior categories, Formula Three, Formula Two and Japanese Super Formula, as a pathway into Formula One.

However, the defined contract date does leave Red Bull with a serious decision to make.

The team has largely sold itself on being the best developer of young talent on the Formula One grid - evidenced by putting a then-16-year-old Verstappen into what was then Toro Rosso.

While Verstappen’s potential has been evident from his junior days, he would not be a three-time, and soon to be four-time world champion were it not for that investment in his future.

However, if Red Bull cannot give the Kiwi a seat in the immediate future, it’s when and not if he’ll be forced to look elsewhere.

Should Lawson make the decision to leave, rival teams Alpine and Haas both have one seat free for next season. Meanwhile, Williams, Sauber, and heavyweights Mercedes all have one seat to spare.

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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