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ZANDVOORT, NETHERLANDS - AUGUST 26: Liam Lawson of New Zealand and Scuderia AlphaTauri has a seat fitting in the garage prior to final practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of The Netherlands at Circuit Zandvoort on August 26, 2023 in Zandvoort, Netherlands. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202308260126 // Usage for editorial use only //

Lawson: As long as this lasts, I’ll focus on it

ZANDVOORT, NETHERLANDS - AUGUST 26: Liam Lawson of New Zealand and Scuderia AlphaTauri has a seat fitting in the garage prior to final practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of The Netherlands at Circuit Zandvoort on August 26, 2023 in Zandvoort, Netherlands. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202308260126 // Usage for editorial use only //

Liam Lawson aims to make the most of his AlphaTauri Formula 1 opportunity while it lasts, the cool and calm New Zealander again has a chance to shine as a substitute for slow-recovering Daniel Ricciardo at the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix.

The Australian veteran’s comeback with AlphaTauri is on pause since he broke his hand in a shunt during the Zandvoort Grand Prix weekend. Lawson was drafted in on short notice to replace Ricciardo and the rest is history. One man’s misfortune has turned out to be another’s greatest break.

Four-race F1 rookie, Lawseon will make it five Grand Prix weekend, this one at Lusail a Sprint Race affair which he will tackle for the first time.

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In the AlphaTauri preview of the Qatar Grand Prix weekend, Lawson said: “In Japan, the news came public that I’m back to the role of reserve driver next year. 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,” explained Lawson.

The Kiwi’s emergence from the relative obscurity of being a second-in-line Red Bull reserve to F1 seat contender has been remarkable, as he has seized the opportunity not only to fill in for Ricciardo but also match and beat Yuki Tsuonda, with vastly more experience in the sister car.

Lawson: The whole Japan experience was good

Lawson pips teammate Tsunoda for 11th at Japanese Grand Prix - NZ Autocar

Stats are interesting too. Tsunoda in 16 races this season scored three points. Nyck de Vries did not socore a point before he got sacked and Ricciardo’s three outings were pointless. Sargeant on the other hand has two points to his name thanks to ninth place in Singapore.

On being thrust into the F1 deep-end, with a sharp spotlight making it impossible to hide. Lawson acknowledged: “The whole Japan experience was good. The week was very, very busy because of more media and events than I’ve ever had to deal with, but it was all pretty good fun, and the weekend itself was also enjoyable.

“For the first time since Zandvoort, I got a good start in the race. I always knew what was missing. It was just about putting the procedure together, which is very different to what I’m used to in Super Formula. It’s good that I’ve done it because it definitely helped, and now I’ll continue working on them to keep doing them well.”

Suzuka was familiar to Lawson as he raced in the Japan Super Formula there in April, but Qatar will not be. The track of MotoGP was a COVID-19 fill-in for the 2021 season. Clearly, organisers (and ruling Sheikhs) were enamoured with the race the country inked a 10-year deal to be on the F1 calendar.

Ahead of his first F1 Sprint Race weekend at an unfamiliar venue, Lawson added: “Now we move on to Qatar. I’m not sure how we’ll get on there or how the upgrades will work. 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.”

Sprint Race weekend at Lusail only once before used for a Grand Prix

SUZUKA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 21: Liam Lawson of New Zealand and Scuderia AlphaTauri paints a canvas at the launch of Sebastian Vettel's Buzzin' Corner biodiversity project during previews ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on September 21, 2023 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202309220225 // Usage for editorial use only //

Lawson continued: “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,” predicted Lawson.

Red Bull is targeting a return to the AlphaTauri cockpit for Ricciardo for the United States Grand Prix in Austin, on 20-22 October and to stay in it until the end of the season.

This will allow Lawson to have a go at winning the 2023 Japanese Super Formula Championship. He lies second in the standings with the Suzuka finale remaining on the final weekend of October. However, it would mean no reserve for RBR in Mexico.