Liam Lawson has admitted that missing out on a full-time drive with Scuderia AlphaTauri for the 2024 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season is disappointing, but he is keen to continue to show what he can do whilst he has the opportunity to do so in 2023.
The New Zealander was drafted in at short notice to make his Grand Prix debut earlier this year during the wet weekend at Circuit Zandvoort after Daniel Ricciardo broke his wrist in a practice accident on Friday afternoon.
Since then, he has shown himself more than capable behind the wheel of the AT04 and has secured AlphaTauri’s best result of the season of ninth in the Singapore Grand Prix despite having never driven the circuit before.
Lawson says his latest opportunity in Qatar this weekend will give him another chance to show just what AlphaTauri will miss next season before he fully turns his attention back to his regular race seat in the Japanese-based Super Formula championship.
“In Japan, the news came public that I’m back to the role of reserve driver next year,” said Lawson. “Obviously, my goal is to be in Formula 1 full-time, so as much as it’s disappointing, it’s still my goal, and it’s now about trying to make sure that I can make that happen in the future.
“Right now, I’ve still got this opportunity to keep trying to show something, and I’ll try to make the most of it. For now, as long as this lasts, I’ll focus on it, and then once I step back from F1, it’ll be full focus on preparing for the final round of the Super Formula championship at Suzuka on the weekend of the Mexican Grand Prix.
“It’ll be very different adjusting back to the car, but it’s certainly been useful having driven so many laps at Suzuka throughout the Grand Prix weekend.”
Lawson says the updates to the AT04 that were introduced a couple of races ago have brought extra performance to the car, but the team are still struggling in high-speed sections of the track, with their shortfalls being highlighted by their result in the Japanese Grand Prix two weeks ago.
“I’m not sure how we’ll get on there or how the upgrades will work,” added the New Zealander. “I think it’s hard to say because where we struggled in Japan was mainly in the high speed, in Sector 1.
“We still have more to learn about our new package, and I’m not so sure that Qatar is the type of circuit that will suit our car. Learning takes time, and we’ve got more opportunities in Qatar to try and get the most out of it.
“However, it’s also a Sprint weekend, so at the same time, that makes it quite tricky, especially in my situation. I’ve never driven here, so going into the sprint weekend will be extra tough.
“I drove the Qatar track in the simulator at the end of last week. It’s very fast, a very high-speed circuit and quite unique, and I’ve not seen many tracks like it, as there’s only one low-speed corner in the whole track. The rest is just fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh gear, so I think it’s going to be exciting to drive.
“With only one Free Practice session, we drivers will have to know where to improve because it’ll get faster at night when it’s much cooler, and we need to know exactly how to extract everything out of the car. I’m expecting it to be tougher than the races we’ve just done.”
“Aero efficiency is very important for the many high-speed corners” – Yuki Tsunoda
Team-mate Yuki Tsunoda is expecting a demanding race weekend at the Lusail International Circuit, although he hopes to emulate his Qualifying performance from the 2021 event where he started an encouraging eighth on the grid.
He, like his then team-mate Pierre Gasly, slipped out of the points-paying positions on Sunday during the inaugural event, and the Japanese racer knows keeping on top of tyre degradation and maintaining aerodynamic efficiency will be key to a good result this weekend.
“The last time we were there in 2021, I enjoyed driving the track and making it to P8 in qualifying,” said Tsunoda. “It’s very flat, and aero efficiency is very important for the many high-speed corners.
“It will be a physically demanding race, and tyre degradation will be an important factor. You need to balance your aero between being fast and having enough downforce so that you don’t slide too much in the corners and damage the tyres.
“There is also a big difference in speed range between qualifying and the race because of the amount you carry into the corners. Overtaking is possible at this track, so it will be important to get a good idea of long run pace, but of course, we only have one Free Practice session with the Sprint format this weekend.
“I’m not too worried about car performance as it was good for qualifying in Suzuka, and we understand why we could not perform as well as we wanted to in the race in Japan, so we can take that experience to do better in Qatar.”
Tsunoda believes the recent updates brought to the AT04 have helped the team move forward, and he his hoping for a return to the top ten this weekend as he bids to help AlphaTauri move off the bottom of the Constructors’ Championship standings.
“We showed a bit of a performance improvement from the upgrades we brought, especially in qualifying” he added. “I think the upgrades are working, and they gave me more confidence to fight, but I think we may need a couple more races to finally estimate their value because Singapore and Suzuka are completely different tracks.
“If we perform well in Qatar, that will confirm the effectiveness of the upgrades.”