Liam Lawson has had a year to remember with tonight’s Formula 1 practice session yet another accolade on a fast growing list.
The 20-year-old got behind the wheel of World Champion Max Verstappen’s Red Bull in Abu Dhabi for the first practice session of the weekend.
It was a flawless run for the Kiwi, bar a small pit lane mishap, as he drove to a fifth fastest lap time in the heat of the UAE.
Once the lights went green Lawson was quick to take to the circuit, immediately setting some benchmark times on the slower hard compound tyres.
The best of these early laps saw the Kiwi sit as high as third as FP1 entered its mid-stages, that time beginning to tumble down the order as the track evolved and suited drivers on the softer compounds.
He returned to the garage for an extended period of time right on the halfway mark, heading back to the track on hards before switching to softs as the end of the session drew near.
The switch worked wonders as Lawson went on to set a best lap of 1min 27.201sec, only five tenths off top spot.
That top spot went to Lewis Hamilton over his teammate George Russell ,whilst Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc traded times before the Monegasque got the better of the Mexican in the dying stages.
Whilst his time was impressive and the timing charts say he finished fifth fastest, at the end of the day it’s a practice session. Teams generally use it for race preparation rather than as a competition.
At that, however, Lawson can take pride in knowing he did exactly what his team expected of him, and to a high level.
His best lap eclipsed the likes of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, two-time champion Fernando Alonso and multiple-time race winner Daniel Ricciardo.
But, for the session, the Kiwi performed exactly how a Formula 1 driver is expected to.
He set lap times and collected data for the team. He fed them information on the radio. Most importantly, he showed pace in a car where he should have been challenging the top teams, which it did.
His only error came entering the Red Bull pit box. Heading down the lane, he almost drove past the garage and turned late, missing his mark and unable to make the tight turn into the arms of the waiting crew.
A completely excusable error which amused the commentators and some of the mechanics.
“Can we push, sorry. I’m used to driving further down,” was the Kiwi’s radio message.
His F2 team, Carlin, have their garage much further down the lane.
The other seven rookie drivers also received some quality experience as they go about building their career in the aim of a full-time gig.
The only drama of note came for the Williams piloted by Logan Sargeant who spun at Turn 1, managing to keep the car out of the wall, just.
There were also minor technical difficulties for the other young drivers, and Robert Kubica, as they came to terms with the complexity of the machinery.
That was to be expected.
With all teams now having fulfilled their rookie driver obligations for 2022 in the final weekend, we’ll now have to wait awhile before we see Lawson back in a Formula 1 car.
For now, however, the Kiwi can hold his head high knowing he did exactly what was expected of him, and more, in his drive of the world’s fastest Formula 1 car this year.