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Formula 1

Lawson's Red Bull test: How it compares to decisive Ricciardo run

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
6 min read

Liam Lawson is preparing for a first test in Red Bull’s 2024 Formula 1 car on Thursday that has drawn comparisons to Daniel Ricciardo’s decisive run last year, amid the prospect of another mid-season driver swap.

Ricciardo earned his call-up to Red Bull’s second team 12 months ago, replacing Nyck de Vries after a successful test in the 2023 Red Bull RB19 sealed his comeback.

This time it is Red Bull Racing that could undergo a shock change, as the underperforming Sergio Perez faces increasing pressure to keep his seat.

While Perez has two races before the summer break to bring a miserable run of form to an end, Lawson has a big opportunity to stake his claim across this Red Bull outing and another test at the end of the month in a 2022 car with RB.

That makes this a potentially crucial month for Red Bull and its drivers - but Lawson’s tests are quite different in what they will comprise, and neither will be the same as Ricciardo’s a year ago.


Lawson will get restricted running in the 2024 Red Bull on Thursday at Silverstone as it is a promotional event - often referred to in F1 as a filming day.

This is one of the few ways to test a contemporary F1 car during the year outside of pre-season testing and a post-season test.

Though such events are technically defined as “purely for marketing or promotional purposes” they are often used for teams to evaluate different things. Early in the year, for example, they are used to shake down new cars.

In this case, Red Bull says it is an “aero test” for Lawson that has been planned for a long time.

Red Bull is playing down the test on the record and it is true that there is a limit to what can be read into. It is restricted to just 200km of running, using Pirelli’s ‘Academy’ tyres - a different, less performant specification than what is used on race weekends.

And as lots of information about the test must be provided to the FIA and all rival teams in advance - observers from these parties are also allowed to attend if they want - Red Bull can’t ignore restrictions to make this a more meaningful test than the rules allow.

At Silverstone, the mileage limit means 34 laps of the grand prix circuit or 67 laps of the less useful, but sometimes used for filming days, international layout. Lawson’s run will probably be on the grand prix layout and for reference, 34 laps equates to around 1.5 times the amount completed in a Friday practice session (based on this year’s British GP weekend).

That’s not a huge amount of mileage but with a relevant programme and a decent idea of what the offset is between the Academy tyres and the compounds used last weekend, Red Bull can get a reasonable idea of Lawson’s performance.

Perhaps just as importantly, it can judge how he handles the situation first-hand in the senior team to add to its existing up-close data on Lawson from his five race weekends with RB last year standing in for an injured Ricciardo, FP1 outings with both Red Bull teams in 2023, and single days of testing with each of them in 2022 (Red Bull) and 2021 (RB, then AlphaTauri) as well.


This is not the same as the test Ricciardo undertook last year, as back then Red Bull utilised a different part of the regulations around testing current cars - by using him for a Pirelli tyre test.

The rules allow for testing organised by the FIA and Pirelli to test current and development compounds. This is more useful for driver evaluations than anything for the team itself as the car must only use components and software used in a test or race weekend that season or the year before, and no test parts or component changes are permitted that give “any sort of information” to the team unrelated to the tyre test.

“Mechanical set-up changes and driver control changes are only permitted if they are necessary for the correct evaluation of the tyres or to complete the tyre test, and these changes must be agreed in advance with the tyre supplier,” the rules state.

That made Ricciardo’s test more about Pirelli while giving him the chance to drive the 2023 Red Bull, so the team could evaluate him up close, although it is pretty obvious based on Red Bull’s comments around it at the time that it was at least aware when Ricciardo was undertaking qualifying simulations.

This allowed it to draw tentative comparisons with its race drivers’ performances at the preceding British Grand Prix, and justified its feeling that Ricciardo was worth putting into its second team RB in place of the struggling Nyck de Vries.

That’s another significant difference between Ricciardo’s situation in 2023 and what Lawson faces now. As well as a more relevant test in the contemporary Red Bull, likely over more laps, giving Ricciardo a race seat was clearly on Red Bull’s agenda and closer to reality already.

Red Bull was only looking for final confirmation with De Vries’ fate all but sealed. Lawson needs to make a convincing case for himself and for Red Bull to decide it really does want to drop Perez at Red Bull or, ironically, Ricciardo at RB.

And if it is true that Perez’s points deficit to Verstappen - which stands at 137 - is about to give Red Bull the chance to activate a performance clause in his contract at the summer break, the Red Bull Racing seat really could be up for grabs as early as this season.


Whatever Lawson does in the RB20 outing, it will not be his last chance to impress before the end of the month.

Perez has two races to rectify his situation, or at least put his best foot forward, before the summer break. Lawson’s test in the AlphaTauri AT03 is scheduled for the week after the Belgian Grand Prix, at Imola, so by the end of July, Red Bull will have all the data required across Perez, Lawson and Ricciardo to make a decision.

And the timing is relevant given Lawson’s contract is believed to have a 2025 option on Red Bull’s side that expires in September - so if it does not give him a race seat for next year by then, he will be a free agent.

The RB test - in the two-year-old car built in the team’s previous guise - is really just a chance for Lawson to get decent mileage in a year when his opportunities are limited. It has been scheduled for quite a while and is likely part of his normal 2024 programme, which cannot include Friday FP1 outings as his five race starts last year exclude him from so-called 'young driver' activities.

Despite being less directly relevant than driving the 2024 Red Bull, the 2022 car work will be more useful in that the rules around testing previous cars (TPC rules) are more open.

Though the cars must only use components and software of a specification that have been used in at least one race or test, and again are fitted with Pirelli’s Academy tyres, there are no mileage limitations and both mechanical set-up changes and driver control changes are permitted.

This is why the TPC rules are so useful for teams developing young drivers, with proteges of Ferrari (Ollie Bearman) and Mercedes (Kimi Antonelli) getting extensive mileage in situations where the teams can learn a lot about them. They can be so significant that these particular teams are putting more weight on the old-car tests than on the drivers’ Formula 2 campaigns.

Lawson has not driven F1 cars for either Red Bull team since his last grand prix in Qatar last year, so the two tests may have just been intended to be a way to blow off the cobwebs. The new few weeks, rather than a single test, will determine whether they lead to something more.

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