Kiwi teenager signs deal to become Red Bull F1 Junior driver
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It was not-so-quietly speculated about behind the scenes at the recent New Zealand Grand Prix event, and now 17-year-old Pukekohe race driver Liam Lawson's 2019 plans have been revealed; he's been drafted into Red Bull F1's Junior Team.
This will see Lawson take on the Formula European Masters series; an open-wheel category that utilises 2018-generation Formula 3 cars. The series has been formed out of the ashes of the FIA European Formula 3 championship that fellow Kiwi (and Ferrari Academy junior) Marcus Armstrong raced in last year. Lawson will race for German team Motopark.
While technically the 2019 will be the category's inaugural season, Motopark should nonetheless expect to be a force to be reckoned with given that they finished second in last year's drivers championship with fellow Red Bull Junior Dan Ticktum.
Speculation pointed to Red Bull being one of several Formula 1 teams to show an interest in Lawson during the Toyota Racing Series season, with the likes of Renault and Alfa Romeo also linked by the media to the talented teenager.
Lawson becomes the first Kiwi to be part of the Red Bull Junior programme since none other than Brendon Hartley. In a similar fashion, Hartley was plucked in the mid-'00s by Red Bull, and put on an open-wheel fast track where he quickly made a name for himself across Europe in different open-wheel formulae.
Of course, Hartley lost his Red Bull Junior slot in 2010, but it still put his career on a trajectory that saw him become a prized test driver for Mercedes' F1 campaign, before earning 24 Hours of Le Mans and World Endurance Championship glory with Porsche and — ultimately — a Formula 1 seat with Toro Rosso for 2018.
Red Bull's junior programme has struggled in years of late, but appears to be in the midst of a renaissance. Lawson joins feisty Macau GP winner Ticktum (Great Britain), TRS teammate Lucas Auer (Austria), second-generation racer Jack Doohan (Australia), Formula 4 aces Dennis Hauger (Norway) and Jonny Edgar (Great Britain), karting maestro Harry Thompson (Great Britain), F3 regular Juri Vips (Estonia), and European Formula Masters teammate for 2019 Yuki Tsunoda (Japan).
The nine-round Formula European Masters series kicks off at the Hockenheim in Germany on May 3-5. The series then will travel to Zolder, Misano, Norisring, Assen, Brands Hatch, the Lausitzring, the Nurburgring, before returning to Hockenheim for the season finale.