Kiwi Liam Lawson made his long-awaited F1 debut over the weekend at the Dutch Grand Prix and in the process, helped TOYOTA GAZOO Racing New Zealand take one step closer towards one of its great ambitions.
Helping to find New Zealand’s next world champion has been one of the major objectives for Toyota New Zealand and its motorsport division for almost 20 years, and it’s confident Lawson has proved he’s got what it takes.
Liam became the 10th Kiwi driver to race in F1 but the first Kiwi TRS champion, a landmark for the New Zealand Championship – but it wasn’t an easy weekend to debut.
Thrown in at the deep end after a practice crash left Daniel Ricciardo out of the race with a broken hand, the 2019 Castrol Toyota Racing Series champion had only one wet practice session before qualifying and the race.
Starting off the back in a chaotic race, he overcame a 10-second penalty for a pit lane infringement and finished strongly after the late restart to take the flag in 13th – just three places and a few seconds away from a points finish.
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing New Zealand motorsport Manager Nicolas Caillol said everyone in the Toyota team in New Zealand would have had one eye on Lawson’s weekend debut.
“It’s often overlooked by the motorsport community that one of our principal goals in delivering the Castrol Toyota Racing Series – now the Castrol Toyota FR Oceania Championship – every January and February has been to find the next Kiwi F1 world champion to follow in the footsteps of Denny Hulme,” he said.
“Everyone in the team that works year-round to deliver the championship in New Zealand followed Liam’s progress closely over the weekend.
“We are all incredibly proud of what he achieved and certainly convinced – as we have been since 2019 – that he has the ability to be the Kiwi driver we’ve been hoping our championship would find.”
The New Zealand connection was picked up several times over the weekend, not least because Liam’s Alpha Tauri teammate Yuki Tsunoda is another graduate of the NZ single-seater championship and a former teammate in 2020.
With Ricciardo on the sidelines for at least the Italian Grand Prix while he recovers, Lawson will get his second opportunity behind the wheel.
Header Image: Getty Images/ Red Bull Content Pool