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Interview

Liam Lawson on playing F1 24: 'go flat-out, crash a couple of times'

And how Codemasters’ F1 games prepared him for that 2023 F1 call-up

Published: 04 Jun 2024

Liam Lawson is a man who knows something about climbing into a vehicle and finding its limits immediately. The 2024 Red Bull reserve driver won on his Super Formula debut race last year, the first driver to achieve that feat in the category since 1978. In the same season, he acclimated to the demands of F1 frighteningly quickly as a last-minute replacement for Daniel Ricciardo at Zandvoort, finishing higher than team-mate Yuki Tsunoda in four of his five appearances and scoring his first points at the notoriously technical Singapore street circuit just three races in.

A huge number of factors go into a performance like that. Perhaps Lawson’s early exposure to car racing at age 12 while racing karts in tandem, or working with performance coach Enzo Mucci. But Codemasters’ F1 games can take at least partial credit.

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“Singapore was the biggest race where I’d never gone before in real life,” he tells TG. “But it was my favourite track on the F1 games.

“I'd done it so much over the years on the F1 games. Which is why, to be honest, I was quite comfortable quite quickly on that crazy, unique track. Fair play to the game, because it was really similar.”

The F1 series has always been part of Lawson’s racing regime. Each new release would be a guaranteed present under the Christmas tree that year, all the way back to F1 2010.

“Since then, sim racing has always been part of what I've been doing, I've done a lot of it over the years and a lot of my friends as well, we all go online and race each other.”

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Now logging serious simulator time for Red Bull in his reserve driver role, Lawson knows how virtual miles translate to performance on the real track better than most. However, if you were hoping there was a secret sauce for finding the limits in EA’s latest release F1 24; a scientific, methodical approach to deconstructing the handling model and incrementally upping the pace lap by lap, we’ve got some news.

“Yeah, it's going flat-out. Normally crash a couple of times.”

The beauty of sim racing, Lawson explains, is that it gives you the freedom to push the limits without fear of injury or costly repairs.

“You can literally do the most perfect lap, which you'd never really be able to do in real life, because in real life you have so many things to account for. In sim racing, you can definitely find the limits a lot more.”

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Outside of hotlapping for fun, though, Lawson uses virtual environments to prep for every contingency.

“You can implement a realistic situation where you have all the damage on, you have real weather and dynamic situations where it brings a lot more of the realism to it as well.”

In 2023 Lawson proved he has a place on the F1 grid. While he waits for the next opportunity to strap into the car, he’s using his current role to rack up “as many days as possible” so that an F1 car becomes second nature to the former Super Formula, F2, F3 and DTM driver.

“At the moment it's really the closest thing to driving and the only sort of testing that I can do. Obviously it's all very restricted in Formula 1. You can't test a current car so the only real preparation you can do is basically the sim development stuff.”

While Lawson’s on the precipice of an F1 career, drivers at the very beginning of their journey can also make use of virtual racing as an increasingly viable entry point to motorsport. We’ve all read the stories by now. We’ve (unfortunately) watched the Gran Turismo movie. We know it’s possible to translate those skills from a force feedback wheel to a racing cockpit, and it doesn’t require endless financial investment in the same way a junior karting career eats up a family’s life savings.

“When I was a kid, I always wanted the next wheel, the next thing that was coming out because I thought that would make me so much faster.

“But honestly, I have a full direct drive setup at home, and I also have just a Logitech that I bolt to my desk, and I have my pedals sitting on my floor. And I’m just as fast on both setups. You can make whatever you have work, basically.”

F1 24 might not represent the sharp end of sim racing – it’s always tried to pitch a sim-cade offering somewhere in the middle – but it’s a valid entry point. The lines, the setups, and the concentration required over a race distance, all these elements are training you to develop skills that cross over between disciplines, between platforms, and between sim and reality.

Who knows: all those hotlaps you’re putting in now might one day give you the track knowledge you need when you get the last-minute call from Helmut Marko.

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