How Lawson's first test brought back memories of Palou

Red Bull junior Liam Lawson’s first run in a Super Formula car last month evoked memories of working with Alex Palou for one of Team Mugen’s race engineers.

How Lawson's first test brought back memories of Palou

Lawson will race in Super Formula this year after two seasons in Formula 2, and had his first taste of the Japanese championship in December’s post-season rookie test at Suzuka driving the #15 car raced last season by Ukyo Sasahara.

The New Zealander impressed on the opening day of the test by finishing ninth in the afternoon session and getting within a second of the pace.

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Engineer Tomo Koike, who ran Sasahara to two wins last season, said that working with Lawson reminded him of Palou, of whose Nakajima Racing crew he was part in 2019 before joining Mugen.

“We were using Ukyo’s car for the test, and the set-up wasn’t changed much,” Koike told Autosport.

“Lawson’s driving style is similar to Ukyo’s, he likes the car to oversteer. 

“We knew our car was not as fast as it could have been in those [cold] conditions, because the base set-up was from Rounds 9 and 10. But because of his driving capacity, he has been able to get up to speed quickly.

“There are still some things he can improve, sector three [including the hairpin and Spoon Curve] especially, but in sector one he was already one of the fastest. 

“My first impression of him is that he is similar to Alex Palou. His driving capacity is better than most Japanese drivers, I think. 

“His comments are also intelligent even though he is just 20 years old; he seems much more mature. I have enjoyed working with him so far.”

Liam Lawson, TEAM MUGEN

Liam Lawson, TEAM MUGEN

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

Palou came close to winning the Super Formula title in his rookie season in 2019, with only a rare intercooler tube issue in the final race at Suzuka leaving him third overall behind Nick Cassidy and Naoki Yamamoto.

He was then handed the chance to make the switch to IndyCar in 2020, and won the title in the American series the following year driving for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Koike believes Lawson, who says he is aiming to use Super Formula as a springboard to a Formula 1 drive with AlphaTauri in 2024, has the potential to make a similar impact to Palou.

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“I think we have a chance because the aero package is changing,” said Koike.

“We have a better chance than if he was making his debut last year.”

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