Maiden F1 points for Lawson, Kiwis go well at Sandown and Leitch wins in Europe: Your week in motorsport

Our highlights from the weekend's motorsport

Sep 18, 2023

Images: AlphaTauri / Liam Lawson. Red Bull Ampol Racing / Shane van Gisbergen. Callum Hedge / Porsche Motorsport Australia. Bredon Leitch / Leipert Motorsport. Walkinshaw Andretti United. Facebook

Lawson grabs his first F1 points.

Liam Lawson has taken another big step toward a permanent F1 seat by securing 2 points in just his third Formula One race under the lights of the Marina Bay Street Circuit in Singapore.

Lawson qualified in 10th for what is widely considered F1’s most challenging race, remarkably knocking out reigning champion, Max Verstappen, in the process. And finishing the race in 9th, his performance represents the best finish by any AlphaTauri driver in the 2023 season, including the veteran Daniel Ricciardo the young Kiwi was brought in to cover for.

Having stepped in for Ricciardo after he suffered a wrist injury during the second free practice session of the Dutch Grand Prix. Lawson's impressive performance has continued to captivate fans and impress paddock insiders. It would be very fair to assume AlphaTauri teammate, Yuki Tsunoda and the underperforming Sergio Perez in the main Red Bull camp should be nervous.

AlphaTauri has only achieved three points in the constructor’s championship before the Singapore race and yet again, Lawson became the team’s only hope as Yuki Tsunoda had to retire on the second lap due to a puncture resulting from contact with Sergio Perez at the race start.

Lawson's outstanding introduction to F1 has certainly raised uncertainties about Tsunoda's future with the AlphaTauri team, especially as his contract is set to expire at the end of the 2023 season. Adding to Tsunoda's woes is the fact that his highest finish this season has been tenth place, consistently being outperformed by Lawson.

The Italian team has refrained from announcing their driver lineup for 2024, but with Lawson's impressive performances and Daniel Ricciardo eager to make a return, many believe that Tsunoda may not secure a contract extension.

Sergio Perez is contracted with Red Bull in 2024, but it’s fair to assume Red Bull will not tolerate another season unless the Mexican driver can turn his fortunes around. Sideline speculation is easy and nothing in F1 is certain of course, but if Lawson was to join AlphaTauri and perform well there could be a roadmap emerging for the Kiwi.

Lawson is clearly enjoying himself and happy with his progression race after race but is still critical of his starting grid performance at Singapore, where he relinquished two positions.

“I’m happy with the race, and I definitely gave it everything because I think we maximised the car’s performance. I need to look at the start because it’s been two weekends in a row that I lost positions, so it makes our lives harder. We stayed out of trouble for the rest of the race and kept it clean. It’s hard when you’re struggling for pace, trying to maximise your tools and get everything out of it, so the race was physically demanding.” The Kiwi said analysing his efforts post-race.

“At the end of the day, I’m really happy to have scored two points.”

Ricciardo is still in the process of recovering but is anticipated to make his comeback at the Qatar Grand Prix, offering Lawson another opportunity to leave a lasting impression and secure a permanent F1 seat for the 2024 season at the upcoming Japanese Grand Prix next weekend.

SVG and Stanaway on Podium at Sandown 500

The Kiwi pairing of Shane van Gisbergen and Ritchie Stanaway overcame a tough qualifying result to charge into a podium finish at the weekend’s Sandown 500.

SVG’s struggles with the #97 Red Bull Ampol Racing Camaro this year have been well documented as the car seemingly eats steering racks event after event. Given the numerous issues the defending champ has been having with the new Gen 3 car, van Gisbergen and the Red Bull Ampol Racing team have done an excellent job at staying 2nd in the championship battle, 155 points behind Erebus’s driver Brodie Kostecki.

With more handling woes during practice and qualifying for the first of the Supercars enduro rounds, van Gisbergen and Stanaway qualified down the order, starting from 19th on the grid, far behind fellow Kiwi Matthew Payne who locked in 7th position on the grid and Andre Heimgartner who started in 15th.

The Co-drivers started the race and Stanaway started to claim the first heads, moving up 2 positions in short order before handing over to van Gisbergen who, in true SVG fashion, made a systematic and brilliantly executed attack on the field. An unfortunate double stack situation in pitlane did impede the charge, but in true SVG fashion he was able to pick up track positions consistently through the 500km race. The driver pairing were the biggest movers and by the final stanza with no pitstops required, SVG had moved into fourth.
A late safety car intervention bunched the field with van Gisbergen’s teammate, Brock Feeney feeling the heat up front with a hard charging Kostecki. Feeney withstood the pressure and Kostecki, on older tyres, cooked his rubber trying to battle the hotter aero wash of Feeney and Feeney pulled away.

SVG was gaining on Kostecki’s teammate, Will Brown and in a rare error Brown downshifted one gear too many, locking the rear wheels and spearing him offline. Van Gisbergen immediately capitalised on Brown’s mistake and snuck into third, he was making ground on Kostecki but ran out of laps to move into P2.

“We had a good race today. I thought our car setup could have been a little bit better, but overall, it was pretty good. Richie did a good job, and we probably missed the safety car call a bit – we could have made it in so we didn’t have to double stack which hurt us a bit. After that, all the good work Richie did during the race he had to do again. Once I got in, I came out in a pretty good spot, and every time Andrew (Edwards, #97 race engineer) dropped the right amount of fuel in and I came out in clean air and was able to do my thing, but I didn’t quite have enough at the end.”

Said van Gisbergen.

The strong showing for the Kiwi duo is promising ahead of Bathurst and if Red Bull Ampol Racing can ensure a robust car for the driver combo another Bathurst 1000 would be a fitting send off for van Gisbergen who heads to NASCAR in 2024.

Ryan Wood takes victory and eyes up more with WAU in 2024

A Team Porsche New Zealand / Earl Bamber Motorsport graduate, Ryan Wood, had a stellar weekend for his Walkinshaw Andretti United team in the Dunlop series at Sandown.

Wood effortlessly secured Race 1 for Walkinshaw Andretti United, leading the way from Turn 2 onwards. The young driver swiftly distanced himself from Zak Best, the current leader of the Dunlop Super2 Series, who valiantly defended against Zach Bates's fierce challenge.

As the lights went out, the teenager initially struggled with wheel spin and was overtaken by Best, who had started from fifth place, and Aaron Love. In the heat of the battle the two cars nearly collided as they approached Turn 1 with the rest of the pack in very hot pursuit.

Best emerged as the leader out of Turn 1, and he and Wood swapped positions as the WAU Commodore overtook the Anderson Mustang, with Best opting for the less favorable racing line.

From that point Wood maintained his lead and claimed the chequered flag. "I actually thought I had burnt out the clutch. I was putting so much pressure on it, and I panicked and released it all at once." Wood said of his start line dilemma.

Wood followed up his win with a P3 spot on the podium on Sunday and is looking like a very exciting new addition to the main Supercar Series in 2024 with Walkinshaw Andretti United confirming he will be partnering Chaz Mostert in the team next year. Wood has impressed the team’s owners Ryan Walkinshaw, Michael Andretti and Zak Brown with his performance in junior categories.

“There’s been a lot of people that have helped me get to this point throughout my career which I can’t thank enough either, from my family to supporters, a heap of people have played a really important role and I wouldn’t be here without them.

“Next year is going to be so exciting, but it’s extra motivation now for me to finish this year strong with the team, put the work in, and hit the ground running in 2024.” Wood said of the signing.

Callum Hedge locks in spot for Porsche Carrera Cup European shootout

Callum Hedge took a dynamic victory in the Porsche Paynter Dixon Carrera Cup Australia enduro cup race at Sandown Raceway by overtaking Dylan O’Keeffe in the final corner.

Starting in third place, Hedge gradually moved up the ranks, eventually reaching second position and closing in on O’Keeffe and in the last laps, Hedge closed the gap and made a daring move on the final corner to win the race by just 0.1 second.

The victory secured his spot as Carrera Cup Australia's representative in the Porsche shootout in Europe and extends the Kiwi’s lead on the Michelin Junior championship after 5 rounds.

Brendon Leitch racks up another win in Valencia

Another Kiwi to snatch victory with a last lap pass, Brendon Leitch secured his second win of the season in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Europe race at Valencia.

In Race 1, he passed Amaury Bonduel and held the lead until the pits. Due to a longer pit stop, he lost the lead to Sebastian Balthasar but regained it with a brilliant overtake in the dying seconds of the race, finishing just 0.531 seconds ahead of Balthasar.

In Race 2, Marzio Moretti made a late-race pass to win, with Balthasar and Leitch finishing fourth.