It has been one heck of a year for New Zealand’s young F1 hopeful Liam Lawson. Since New Year’s day 2019, he has been flat out quite literally, around the world and back again. Although he’s home in Auckland for a few weeks at the moment, he’s far from done yet. In fact, in a couple of weeks time he faces what will be his biggest challenge to date in his young career – The Macau Formula 3 Grand Prix.
It all began, of course, with his brilliant rookie season at home in New Zealand in the Castrol Toyota Racing Series.
In five short weeks he came of age as a driver, calmly and diligently racing his way to the title taking his first two wins at Highlands in round 1 by over 9 seconds. He then went on to take five wins in total, four poles and 11 podiums in 15 races to win the auspicious international series and topping it by winning the New Zealand Grand Prix. This all before his 17th birthday which he celebrated the following day with the ultimate present.
Then at 17 Liam Lawson joined his boyhood dream team by becoming a member of the Red Bull Junior Team.
He then left home for England where he didn’t slow down or lose any pace. In fact, he actually upped his game taking on two major international Series in FIA Formula 3 Championship and Euroformula Open Series.
Naturally, there were clashes so he chose to compete in FIA F3 which hampered his chances of winning the EuroFormula Open 3 title. In the end he finished runner up to Marino Sato of Japan with four wins and two poles. However, he did finish in style winning the final race of the year at Monza before coming home for some well-earned R & R.
“Monza was a great way to end the season. I really loved driving the car this year. It’s a shame that car’s going away next year and I hope the new one will be as good, but I don’t know.
“The weekend went well, we had good pace in both quali sessions – The first race didn’t go well and was a bit average, In race two it all came together and it is always great to finish the last race of the season with a win.”
As for the FIA F3 series, this was a big step as a rookie as this is the elite of F3 and effectively ( the former) GP3. It’s where you find the very best junior drivers hoping to make it through to Formula One. In fact the field was packed with Toyota Racing Series graduates from Robert Schwartzman, who won the overall title to Raul Hyman, Jehan Daruvula, Richard Verschoor, Devlin De Francesco and of course New Zealand’s own Ferrari F1 Junior driver Marcus Armstrong. He’s now in his second year of the series, and was a brilliant runner up to teammate Schwartzman.
“In the FIA series, we really jumped two steps as a rookie as its really the new GP3 car so it was a big step and was a bit last minute. I learned a lot, made a lot of mistakes but learned a lot from them. We struggled to match the top teams. Competing in two series has given me a lot of seat time. It’s been very very busy year, but I’m not complaining.
“I’d love to do FIA F3 again next season. With a year of experience, it would be great and would actually be the first time in my career I’ve done a championship two years in a row.”
So all in all in 2019 Lawson has driven three championships in three different cars winning one, finishing runner-up in another and rookie of the year in the third. He also scored podiums in all three.
So how do the cars compare? The power of the FIA F3 car is bigger and it has DRS. In Euroformula Lawson has had the most seat time and really enjoyed driving it. But the TRS season will always have fond memories for kick-starting his international career.
“The Toyota is a lot different to any car I’ve driven. It’s a really, really fun car and it’s easy to drive. The steering is light, the car is super light and probably the lightest car I’ve driven.
“The new FT60 TRS car will, of course, be even quicker and a definite step up in lap time so it should be a really interesting car.”
Back home in Auckland, his feet were firmly back on the ground after a glamorous year of driving missiles around iconic European circuits. It is back to the more mundane. When we spoke he’d just run his parents to the airport at 5 am and was about to leave to drive his younger brother to school. Still, after the year he has had a bit of grounding won’t do the ambitious teenager any harm.
I’m sure both were ahead of their arrival times as Liam is still keeping his eye in as up next it’s the Mighty Macau on the 3rd weekend of November.
This is, without doubt, the ultimate race and the ultimate challenge. All the best F3 drivers will be there from all over the world. Personally, it is my favourite weekend of the year and this will be my 23rd year in a row as the lead commentator. I’ve seen the streets of Macau sort out the men from the boys and I’ve seen its famous streets make and break many a young driver’s career.
Senna, Schumacher and more recently Rosenquist and Ticktum have made their name at Macau. There’s also a long list of those that have failed to meet the challenge and often disappear into the racing annals for its a place that doesn’t give any second chances and those that race there know they are racing against the most challenging circuit in the world as well as the best in their peer group. Lawson has studied his history of the event and as a rookie is under no illusions.
“I’m very excited to be going as I’ve been wanting to for many years now. I watched it live the last couple of years. This year, as it’s my first, I am going to go in with a very open mind as this will definitely be a learning year at Macau for me. MP, my team, have never been to Macau before either, so it’s going to be a real challenge for both of us . I’m usually a very attacking driver and aggressive so I really need to bring that back and focus on learning the track. I have no real expectations of a result as I really don’t have any at the moment. It would be nice to finish as high up as we can so I’m going in with an open mind to do the best job we can and see where we are.
“Most of the guys I will have raced before, but there will drivers from all over the world and many I’ve raced before in TRS. I’m not going to be holding back but it’s important to finish the weekend.”
So what about the chances of Liam Lawson defending his title in Toyota next year. It would be the perfect tune-up for his second crack at FIA F3 and with a new car, he would relish the opportunity to show his talents again at home. Plus Red Bull have a habit of using TRS as a training ground as Richard Verschoor and Lucas Auer will attest.
“I think any kind of racing in the European winter like TRS in New Zealand is good. It’s a whole championship in five weeks and a great way to stay race fit before heading back to Europe.
“I would love to come back and do it again, but I have no idea yet. The new car will be quicker and in terms of the field with the same chassis used in Europe and more Super license points up for grabs, I think it’s going to attract a very strong field. It’s up to Red Bull as they decide the best thing for me and what they say goes. It’s been a great opportunity to drive with them as it has been a dream to drive and race for them since I was a kid. It’s pretty amazing right now for me.”
Red Bull have certainly given this Kiwi a chance to fly and he’s taking it. Personally I reckon it will continue to give him wings and so the path seems straight forward.
Top ten at Macau as a rookie, back to back Toyota titles in a new car. Celebrate his 18th birthday along the way then off to Europe to win the FIA title followed by a win at Macau. Follow that with a season or two in Super Formula in Japan and then it’s up to Red Bull which seat they have of the four in F1. Eventually its “Hello Max, I’m Liam, lets race.”
That’s just me. Liam is not thinking that as he takes his brother to school. He’s still educating himself for now and Macau in three weeks will be his biggest examination so far. It will be live-streamed worldwide so tune in and let’s see how he and Marcus Armstrong do.