“Why am I so slow?” That is the question Liam Lawson has demanded answers for after another difficult FIA Formula 3 feature race, this time at Spa-Francorchamps after the young Kiwi lost further ground in the title hunt to Prema duo Logan Sargeant and Oscar Piastri.
Lawson was in a strong position in the first half of the race but slumped to ninth at the chequered flag as lap after lap he yielded positions as he helplessly attempted to cling onto a points finish.
Lawson has now also fallen behind David Beckmann in the standings after the German would claim his fifth podium of the year. The Kiwi sits 39-points adrift of Oscar Piastri who usurped Logan Sargeant for the lead of the championship after the erstwhile leader suffered an engine drama in the final few laps.
After his emphatic qualifying performance to snare his maiden F3 pole, Lirim Zendeli executed a flawless race at the front of the field to claim his long-awaited debut race win.
Zendli made a blinding start while second-placed starter Theo Pourchaire came under fire from a fast-starting Beckmann and Alexander Smolyar.
Starting seventh, Lawson suffered a lock-up as he offered a half-hearted move on Richard Verschoor at Turn 1 which was indicative of the cool tyre temperatures. Verschoor would then run across the kerbing on the exit of Le Source as he jockeyed for position with the Kiwi on the run up to Eau Rouge.
Aware a retirement in any of the last few races this season would all but end his championship assault, Lawson bided his time behind the fellow Toyota Racing Series graduate before pulling off a wily lunge at the final chicane at the end of the opening lap.
It put the Red Bull Junior directly behind Sargeant on the road as he worked to close down his points deficit.
Yellow flags were waved in the final sector as an errant tyre carcass found home along the back straight. But race control seemed reluctant to deploy a Virtual Safety Car and let the race remain uninterrupted for another lap before Alessio Deledda buried himself in the gravel trap at Turn 14.
The entire field then ambled around the 7km circuit for a further three laps, neutralised by the Virtual Safety Car. When racing did resume, Zendeli and Pourchaire charged away from a napping Smolyar.
The Russian fell over four seconds adrift of Pourchaire and was demoted from the rostrum two laps later after dropping a position to Beckmann.
Meanwhile, a vulnerable Lawson was slowly being reeled in by Oscar Piastri who was benefiting the from the DRS assistance along the Kemmel Straight.
The move would come on lap ten as Lawson and Piastri danced wheel-to-wheel along the Kemmel Straight. Both toyed with one another as they braked at the last possible moment, clashing and driving each other off the road.
The Kiwi would rejoin after a violent bounce across the kerb but found himself behind Piastri who asserted his Prema into the position.
The incident was noted by race control, but the Australian did redress the situation two laps later on the run to the Bus Stop chicane, only to mosey past a powerless Lawson along the Kemmel Straight for a second time the next lap.
It was only inevitable that the third Prema entry of Frederik Vesti would sail past Lawson for seventh the very next lap. The silver lining for Lawson being a late engine drama for Sargeant who slumped into the clutches of his teammate.
However, the Kiwi’s woes were further compounded when the Trident of Oli Caldwell demoted Lawson another position to ninth where he was compelled to fend off Verschoor on the run to the line to salvage ninth.
The result does give Lawson a front row start for tomorrow’s reverse top-10 race but he will be rueing a drop in points as he clings onto an outside shot of the title with five races remaining.
The final F3 race of the weekend is slated to begin from 7.30 pm NZT tomorrow evening.