The 2021 racing season will see Kiwi driver Liam Lawson compete in the FIA Formula 2 Championship for Hitech GP, the team he competed with in the 2020 FIA Formula 3 Championship finishing fifth overall. The next step on the ladder to Formula One will bring added pressure and intensity but don’t worry, this young eighteen-year-old is up to it and ready.
It is a year of positive change for Lawson. Starting from his living arrangements which will see him move closer to the Red Bull Racing Formula One team in Milton Keynes in the UK.
“I will be based in Milton Keynes for 2021, which is five minutes down the road from the Red Bull Racing F1 factory. Last year, I was half an hour out from Milton Keynes right down the road from Silverstone living with family friends and didn’t have my own transport, but will this year. I will also be living on my own.
“For me Mitlon Keynes has everything, and it gives me easier access to Red Bull (factory) so I can be there a lot more. With the program we are doing this year they will want me a lot more in the factory and on the simulator.”
It is just under four years ago that Lawson won the 20167/17 NZ Formula Ford Championship. Time flies and Lawson keeps pinching himself, happy with the journey so far.
“I’ve spent three years in Europe and still enjoying it. It has always been high pressure and stressful which is something I have spent plenty of time on with my coach over 2020. It is about focussing on the positives, that which is in my control.
“For me, that means a lot less mistakes.”
First there was the pressure racing in Europe. A Kiwi from the other side of the world trying to prove himself to others on the grid, others watching and of course all his supporter back home.
“When I got signed with Red Bull (early 2019), that brought a whole new level of pressure. Looking back, I made too many mistakes and wasn’t good enough. I was lucky to stay on their program so 2020 was all about showing that I had improved. That’s when I started working with my coach to deal with the pressure.
Finishing fifth in the 2020 FIA F3 Championship may not have been the goal but more important was what Red Bull were seeing.
“They knew that with everything that did happen over the season, fifth is all we could do. From my side I learned heaps, learned how to push the team and I felt that I grew to be a better driver.”
It is a big year ahead for Lawson, so being back in NZ over the Southern Hemisphere summer is important for re-energising. Time with family, friends and enjoying the beach.
“Living overseas can be difficult to recharge the batteries, particularly in 2020 when we had so many consecutive weekends of racing. Any time off was generally spent training. It was a very high intensity season once racing got underway.”
So, how much of a step up will it be from F3 to F2?
“In terms of raw lap time there’s not a huge difference. Although, it is a lot different to drive in terms of heaviness, more power and aero and higher tyre deg (degradation). Also, we have pitstops and longer races.”
The FIA F2 Championship will have some notable changes in 2021. Previously each round consisted of a Feature race on the Saturday and a Sprint race on Sunday. This season two Sprint races will take place on Saturday (120km or 45mins each). The Feature race will now take place on Sunday morning and will still be one hour long or 170km. With three races per weekend, the championship will take place over eight rounds, all in support of the Formula One World Championship.
“Three races will be really good with more track time at each circuit. Physically it is going to be another big step up. A lot of training will be focused on that and the fact that you could be called up at any stage for a F1 test, so readiness is quite important.”
And the next step, Formula One?
“I have never had any doubt that the F1 dream is possible (for me). I have never doubted it and we are getting closer.
Determination is a massive part. Without it, then there is no point in doing it in the first place. I left school at 15, have given up everything to be on the journey and get this far.”
So where do you get that extra bit of competitiveness to be above the rest on the grid?
“We see it particularly in F2, it is super competitive. Some guys get to a level and are unable to push through. I learned a lot in 2020 about as a team taking risks that we didn’t need to. I think that it back fired to often and we can’t do that in F2.
“Qualifying is going to be very important, although in F2 with tyre deg and pitstops there will be more variables in F2.”
What about the mind-games between drivers?
“Yes, it definitely goes on in Europe. It is pretty intense sometimes so it can be difficult to have friends in motorsport. However, the benefit of Covid in 2020 was that you saw less of drivers. Most of them are pretty good but it is intense.
“I can’t help myself, but be super-competitive and try to win. Don’t expect me not to give it everything once I get in any car.