Liam Lawson says his battle with Yuki Tsunoda in the opening exchanges of Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix was “as close as it gets.”

The New Zealander, continuing to deputise for the sidelined Daniel Ricciardo, scored his maiden points in Singapore but came up one place short of the top 10 at Suzuka.

Despite only 15 cars reaching the chequered flag, neither AlphaTauri driver was able to preserve their positions at the tail end of the points beyond the end of the first lap.

Lawson accepts that the Faenza side’s fears over its long-run pace from Friday’s practice sessions materialised during the 53-lap race.

“We just quite didn’t have the speed on the long runs,” he assessed.

“I think, to be honest, we weren’t super confident after practice, because we knew that our long run pace wasn’t amazing, but, also, as pretty much on that top bunch finished, maybe just not Checo [Sergio Perez] but everybody else was finishing, and we didn’t have quite the speed for the Alpine and the Aston, we maximized what we have.

“We were close but, unfortunately, not enough.”

Lawson had been out-qualified by Tsunoda, but the Kiwi got ahead of his Japanese team-mate on the opening lap after an intensely fought duel that spanned several corners.

While Tsunoda edged ahead at the first round of pit stops, Lawson then received priority next time around to ensure he was the lead AlphaTauri home once again.

“I think it was pretty much as close as it gets,” Lawson said regarding his duel with Tsunoda.

“Obviously he got boxed into Turn 1, so I managed to get past. And he came back at me, so I came back at him, so, it was basically like that through the whole lap, until the Safety Car, so it was fair, from where I was thinking, I think most of the race was, as well.

“I think with strategy I got put behind him at the end of the first stint, then on the second stop he got put behind me. But, to be honest, I don’t think any of us had the pace to finish in the points today.”

Liam Lawson (NZL) AlphaTauri AT04. 24.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, Japan, Race Day

Despite failing to repeat his Singapore heroics, Lawson is convinced that he largely maximized the entire weekend.

“Obviously Singapore was great, we got points, I think this weekend, in the race, I was really happy with the pace,” he reflected.

“I think, from my side and from the team’s side we worked really hard this weekend to maximize the sessions, and, to be honest, in each session we made steps, but, unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough.

“If a couple of cars wouldn’t have finished we’d be stoked to finish in the points, but, realistically, we didn’t have the pace, with everybody finishing, to really achieve that. I think we did the most we could.”

AlphaTauri Head of Trackside Engineering Jonathan Eddolls admitted on Friday in Japan that Ricciardo’s return from his broken hand injury remained “a while away” yet.

Pressed on whether he had been given any indication he will remain in the AT04 for the Qatar Grand Prix, Lawson replied: “I’ll prepare for it, I think the decision will be made closer to the time of the weekend, to give Daniel the best chance possible but, for now, it’s normal preparations.”

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