Super Formula Fuji: Red Bull junior Lawson wins on debut
Red Bull protege Liam Lawson claimed an impressive victory on his Super Formula debut at Fuji after emerging on top in a straight duel with two-time champion Tomoki Nojiri.
Having qualified third on the grid, Lawson passed the TGM car of Toshiki Oyu following a safety car restart on lap eight of 41 before settling in behind pole-sitter and Mugen team-mate Nojiri.
Lawson fell as much as two seconds behind Nojiri over the following few laps, but the gap between the two had halved when the Kiwi came into the pits at the end of lap 21 for his mandatory tyre change.
Nojiri followed Lawson into the pits on the next lap and initially managed to hold onto the lead.
But the combination of the undercut and a pitstop that was 0.4s faster brought Lawson back into play, and the 21-year-old was able to take advantage of tyres that were fully up to temperature to grab the lead.
Nojiri struggled for the remainder of his outlap, allowing Lawson to quickly stretch out a five-second lead at the front of the pack.
It appeared the Kiwi would have an easy run to the chequered flag, but a collision between Giuliano Alesi and Nirei Fukuzumi approaching Turn 1 brought out the safety car for the second time.
It left Lawson with the possibility of surviving a short sprint to the finish, but the debris left behind by Alesi and Fukuzumi couldn’t be cleared in time, with Lawson taking the chequered flag behind the safety car.
It makes Lawson the first Red Bull junior to win a race in Super Formula since Pierre Gasly in 2017, and the first driver to win on debut in the modern history of Japan's premier single-seater series.
Liam Lawson, Tomoki Nojiri, Team Mugen
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
Nojiri started his title defence in second, completing a 1-2 finish for Mugen, while Ryo Hirakawa charged up to third with a late pitstop on lap 31.
Impul driver Hirakawa was able to demote Nakajima Racing’s Naoki Yamamoto and the similarly late-stopping TOM’S car of Ritomo Miyata in the final green flag laps of the race, but the prolonged caution meant he wasn’t able to take any further advantage of fresher tyres.
Fourth-place represented Yamamoto’s best dry-race result since joining Nakajima in 2021, the triple champion having made most of the gains in the early laps of the race after qualifying 10th.
Miyata had qualified on the front row alongside Nojiri but slipped to fourth with a poor getaway at the original start, and eventually crossed the finish line in fifth.
Sixth place went to the second Nakajima car of Ren Sato, ahead of Oyu, while Turkish driver Cem Bolukbasi took a surprise eighth place on his debut for the TGM team.
The final points went to Rookie Racing’s Kazuya Oshima and Kondo Racing’s Kazuto Kotaka.
The race featured two prolonged safety car periods, the first of which was caused by Tadasuke Makino misjudging his braking and ploughing into the back of Sho Tsuboi at Turn 2.
Makino miraculously managed to continue after a front wing change, finishing 14th after a five-second time penalty.
Super Formula Fuji Race results (41 laps):
|1||Liam Lawson||Team Mugen||1:15'37.813|
|2||Tomoki Nojiri||Team Mugen||1:15'39.871||2.058|
|3||Ryo Hirakawa||ITOCHU ENEX TEAM IMPUL||1:15'41.584||3.771|
|4||Naoki Yamamoto||TCS Nakajima Racing||1:15'43.026||5.213|
|5||Ritomo Miyata||Vantelin Team TOM'S||1:15'44.452||6.639|
|6||Ren Sato||TCS Nakajima Racing||1:15'45.119||7.306|
|7||Toshiki Oyu||TGM Grand Prix||1:15'45.274||7.461|
|8||Cem Bolukbasi||TGM Grand Prix||1:15'46.363||8.550|
|9||Kazuya Oshima||docomo business ROOKIE||1:15'48.110||10.297|
|10||Kazuto Kotaka||Kondo Racing||1:15'48.944||11.131|
|11||Yuhi Sekiguchi||ITOCHU ENEX TEAM IMPUL||1:15'52.972||15.159|
|12||Yuji Kunimoto||Team KCMG||1:15'56.442||18.629|
|13||Nobuharu Matsushita||B-Max Racing Team||1:15'59.742||21.929|
|14||Tadasuke Makino||Dandelion Racing||1:16'02.155||24.342|
|15||Kakunoshin Ota||Dandelion Racing||1:15'55.138||1 Lap|
|16||Raoul Hyman||B-Max Racing Team||1:15'55.365||1 Lap|
|17||Sena Sakaguchi||JMS P.mu/cerumo-INGING||1:15'50.951||5 Laps|
|18||Nirei Fukuzumi||ThreeBond Racing||58'41.896||6 Laps|
|19||Giuliano Alesi||Vantelin Team TOM'S||58'42.392||6 Laps|
|20||Sho Tsuboi||JMS P.mu/cerumo-INGING||1'30.801||40 Laps|
|21||Kenta Yamashita||Kondo Racing|
|22||Kamui Kobayashi||Team KCMG|
|View full results|
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