A blast from the past as new driver Liam Lawson turns heads in the F1 paddock. PETER COSTER reports on the Singapore Grand Prix:
Dr Helmut Marko, the acid-tongued Red Bull power broker, is old enough to remember one of the greatest of the New Zealand drivers who once dominated Formula One.
Marko is 80 and was an F1 driver when Bruce McLaren was killed when he crashed while testing a car of his own design in the team that carries his name.
The car was the McLaren M8D, the latest version of the fire-breathing seven-litre monster that dominated Can-Am sports prototypes racing in the hands of McLaren and fellow New Zealander Denny Hulme.
McLaren won four grand prix and Hulme won the F1 world championship before he died of a heart attack while driving in the Bathurst 1000 in 1992.
McLaren is the second most successful team in F1 after Ferrari, having won 12 drivers championships and eight constructor world titles.Embed from Getty Images
Stirling Moss was to say that for the size of its population, New Zealand drivers were the most successful in F1.
Another New Zealand driver who might have caught Helmut Marko’s eyes was Chris Amon, who survived the spate of Formula One deaths in the 60s and 70s before returning to Zealand where he died from cancer in 2016.
Amon won the Le Mans 24-hour classic with Bruce McLaren and was regarded as one of the best drivers in F1.
He failed to win a GP although he finished on the podium in 11 races.
His bad luck prompted Mario Andretti to say “if he had become an undertaker, people would have stopped dying.”
Now a little-known New Zealander has prompted Helmut Marko to make what might seem an overly generous comparison to Bruce McLaren.
Liam Lawson stepped in to drive an AlphaTauri for Red Bull’s feeder team when Daniel Ricciardo broke his hand in a free practice crash at Zandvoort before the Dutch Grand Prix.
Not only did he bring the car home in one piece when other drivers crashed in treacherous weather conditions, but in the next race at Monza he qualified in Q2.
At Singapore he reached Q3 and was ninth in the race, scoring Alpha Turi’s highest finish for the season.
Now, it seems everybody’s talking about the 22-year-old New Zealander and Red Bull development boss Marko’s comparison to Bruce McLaren is worth a second look.
It was an early call in what promises to be a successful career, but it has also drawn comparisons with young Australian driver Oscar Piastri, who replaced Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren.
Ricciardo is unlikely to get back into the Alpha Tauri this weekend at Suzuka, which is a track well known to Lawson, who drives in a Japanese domestic series.
The Australian multiple Grand Prix winner might not return until the Qatar race next month or even the United States Grand Prix.
Meanwhile, it seems as if Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda will stay with AlphaTauri next year and Lawson might find himself approached by Williams.
The Singapore Grand Prix last Sunday saw Red Bull’s run of victories end with Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez failing to challenge the Ferrari and Mercedes teams.
Carlos Sainz won by less than a second from Lando Norris in the McLaren and Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes. Charles Leclerc was fourth in the second Ferrari and Max Verstappen was fifth in the Red Bull.
Piastri was seventh in the McLaren with Sergio Perez eighth in the second Red Bull.
Red Bull is expected to bounce back in Japan, but why the failure in the street race in Singapore?
The problem appeared to be aerodynamic but why did it appear so suddenly after the team’s unbroken run of successes?
It may be a case of the other teams catching up as Red Bull concentrates on the development of its 2024 cars.
The strategy that won the race for Ferrari was Carlos Sainz actually slowing down to push Norris in the McLaren back onto the following Mercedes before George Russell clipped a barrier and dropped out on the last lap.
Norris had been able to stay on the tail of Sainz by opening his rear wing in the DRS zones. It was a finely balanced manoeuvre on the part of Sainz, but it worked.
Verstappen remains a certain winner of his third wold championship but more interestingly there is a twist at the top of the grid as a new star is born.