Liam Lawson inspired by fellow Kiwi ahead of Japan debut

Liam Lawson will be thousands of kilometres away from Azerbaijan when the Formula One circus next roars into action, but he will arguably be one step closer to the grid himself.

He’s in Japan gearing up for his Super Formula debut this weekend, the top single-seater racing series in Asia, and according to Red Bull’s F1 boss Helmut Marko, “it’s closer to F1 than F2”.

Lawson explains why.

“It's quite a lot of things, to be honest. When I first went there, my understanding was that the car was very, very strong, and that was 100% confirmed the first time I drove the car. It's very fast, the downforce (and) the aerodynamics are very strong on the car, and it feels very similar to Formula One.”

Which is just the kind of challenge Lawson needs.

Coming off an F2 season where his points tally didn’t truly reflect a strong showing on-track, he has consistently impressed his Red Bull bosses when given the reins to either World Champion Max Verstappen or Mexico’s Sergio Perez’s cars in free practice sessions.

But even though he’s used to wielding a stronger beast in the RB18 F1 car, he knows the Super Formula season will throw up plenty of challenges.

“The benchmark’s always winning, that's always the target, and that's what I'm going to go there to try and achieve. But I think everybody, including Red Bull, is very realistic about it.

“If you look at any foreign driver that goes there initially, it's very, very tough. If I can learn and get the basics down as quickly as possible and try and be fighting for race wins during the season, that's the goal.”

And he doesn’t need to look far for inspiration.

Kiwi racing driver Nick Cassidy is one of only a handful of foreign drivers to win the prestigious championship, which is predominantly made up of homegrown Japanese drivers.

When Lawson confirmed his move to Super Formula, the 21-year-old contacted Cassidy, who's been more than happy to hand out advice.

"When I was there and going through it, I thought it was amazing, but I wish there were somebody else to share that feeling with. He (Liam) reached out, and I said, 'man it costs nothing to call me - I'm here, whatever you need and whatever way I can support you'.

"I think he was pretty confident when he went to his first test because I didn't hear from him much, then 20 minutes after his first session, my phone was on fire!"

From fiery collisions to a title victory with fireworks, Cassidy has experienced it all in the Japanese series. But says Lawson's biggest challenge will be racing on a new circuit of Fuji Speedway.

"There isn't much running time before qualifying, and looking at the weather, practice could be wet, and qualifying could be dry.

"I'm sure he can fight for the championship, he'll be in a good position, but it will be a case of staying grounded and building race on race."

Lawson described Cassidy's help as a ‘perfect fit’.

“He [Cassidy] knows how tough it is there, and he learned how to master the craft over there. So to have someone like him helping me is going to be very important.

“He's been a huge help already so far, and he's been massively open to potentially even coming with me to a couple of races this year.”

This would be a huge benefit for another reason – Lawson is doing this series by himself.

“I've had a coach (Enzo Mucci) who I've worked with since I moved to Europe since I started racing here. He's been a huge part of getting me to where I am now, but he won't actually travel with me to Japan this year.”

While it’s new ground for the Kiwi from Pukekohe, he’s already had a taste of what it’s like to race against Japanese drivers, having shared a flat with former F2 driver - now Alpha Tauri F1 driver - Yuki Tsunoda.

“I know what it's like to race against Japanese drivers, from racing against Yuki,” he says, hiding a grin. “I know how they race; it’s going to be very tough. Knowing how tough it is, and the level of the cars, the teams and stuff like that, it's a big step for me towards F1. And I’m definitely grateful to Red Bull for putting me in this position.”

The biggest hurdle for him will be the communication between himself and his almost entirely Japanese crew.

“The communication is quite hard, but it's something that we're definitely getting better at, and they're pushing really, really hard for me.”

Considering he finished the two-day pre-season testing as the fifth-fastest driver, communication appears to be off to a solid start.

The opening round of Lawson’s Super Formula campaign is a double-header at the famous Fuji circuit this weekend.


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