The points deficit to the front has been marginally narrowed but Liam Lawson is adamant things have to change if he is to challenge for the FIA Formula 3 championship come the season finale in Mugello, starting with an unmitigated focus on qualifying.
The Kiwi pilot once again carried the struggling Hitech GP outfit with two hands as he soldiered through tyre wear issues which many drivers fell victim of over the weekend.
Qualifying just off the front row, Lawson drove a mature opening race to keep his tyres in check before a wily move around the outside of points leader Logan Sargeant promoted the Kiwi to second at the chequered flag.
But the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is notoriously difficult to overtake on due to is high-load sweeping right-handers and technical final sector. It meant there was added emphasis on qualifying and the championship-critical four points that come with pole.
A frustrated Lawson admitted after qualifying that backmarker team Jenzer Motorsport had not warned one of its drivers of the fast-approaching Red Bull Junior on the run into Turn 10. It lost Lawson time which would likely have seen him finish the session on pole.
It is not the only time Lawson has run into uncontrollable issues which have hampered his qualifying runs, believing three pole positions have gone begging and with it 12 championship points.
“That is one of the big focuses for the next few weeks, we have to get pole positions and Race 1 victories, those are the main things,” said Lawson.
“There is nothing wrong with our pace in Quali, we just keep being really unlucky, three times we should have been on pole and something has happened. This weekend the lap I was on was really really good but then I had a Jenzer sitting in the middle of the road at turn 10 and I lost more time than I needed to get pole.”
“We are not out of it yet, we are in 3rd place, I think 32 points off the lead so we’ve just got to really smash out the next couple of weekends.”
However, Lawson can be grateful his qualifying did not swelter away under the Spanish sun when a power unit issue kept him grounded in the garage as a fix was hastily made. But when he eventually cruised onto the circuit he found himself at the back of the queue.
Consequently, Lawson had his preparation lap scuppered and tyres far from their ideal operating window.
“On top of that we’d had an issue getting the car started so that I was at the back of the queue,” he added.
“So I spent the whole prep lap doing 5 or 10kph because everyone was backed up trying to get a gap so I had no tyre temp starting my lap.
“They were just a lot of issues, the pace was there but we just need to nail the lap.”
Compelled to start ninth for the reverse top-10 Lawson made a strong start to sit seventh before a clumsy tangle between both his Hitech teammates further back in the pack yielded the first Safety Car.
From there he applied pressure on sixth-placed Theo Pourchaire, offering countless half-hearted lunges at Turn 1, but ultimately conceded defeat and followed the Frenchman home.
“On Saturday the car was good but it was not really possible to pass early on, that was the way things played out, then the car was coming on really strong at the end of the race and that made 2nd possible for us, it was good.
“In Race 2 we didn’t have more pace than the guys around, we were just stuck in the train and it was better to get the points than do anything risky.
“We will focus on the next few weeks and really make up the points.”
Lawson sits 32-points behind Prema duo Sargeant and Oscar Piastri with only races at Spa, Monza and Mugello left to play out.
Considering Lawson has suffered the same number of DNFs as both Sargeant and Piastri combined, it is a standout effort he has found himself still within touching distance after six rounds.
Granted the Kiwi can replicate his podium success from the last few races at the storied Belgian circuit and finally nail a representative qualifying performance, Lawson will be well within a shot of usurping both Premas for the head of the standings.
The Belgian Grand Prix will be held over August 28-30.