Daniel Ricciardo lavished praise on Liam Lawson following his impressive five-race interim with AlphaTauri, insisting the young Kiwi's “time will come” at some point in the future.
Lawson replaced Ricciardo in the wake of the latter’s crash in free practice at the Dutch Grand Prix when he sustained a fractured metacarpal.
Lawson was drafted in at the last hour but quickly got up to speed, even succeeding in qualifying among the top-ten and finishing in the points in his third race with AlphaTauri in Singapore.
All good things come to an end however and after his final outing in Qatar the 21-year-old charger has now handed the seat back to Ricciardo, although he’ll be sitting in the wings from this weekend in Austin, ready to return to the track if necessary.
Lawson received the commendations of Red Bull’s top brass, Christian Horner and Helmut Marko, but Ricciardo also gave his substitute a big pat on the back while also offering a words of encouragement.
“Liam did a great job for sure,” said Ricciardo in Austin on Thursday.
“In terms of him currently not having a seat next year, it’s one of those ones where he’s young. It’s not like he’s at the end of his career.
“He’s very much at the early part of his career, so just keep persisting, keep your head down.
“I think he did very well to create an opportunity for himself, so if he keeps on that course, his time will come.
“As drivers, we obviously believe in ourselves so much that you always feel like you’re ready and like ‘why isn’t it happening yet?’ I mean, he’s very young, he’s 21 or something.
“So, yeah, I’m sure he’ll find a way on the grid if he keeps up what he’s been doing.”
After sitting on the sidelines for two months, rehabilitating his fractured hand, Ricciardo admitted that his recovery was “tougher” than anticipated.
“But I’m probably a bit of a wuss as well. So maybe not tougher than I thought!” he said.
“I think it was really just when the accident happened, and we were aware of what bone broke, they seemed fairly OK with that bone, in terms of ‘oh yeah, it’s a relatively easy one’, to let’s say, fix.
“But then, yeah, when we got the surgery done in Spain, we got further checks done and it was just the break was a lot worse than it first seemed.
“So I think that’s what took a lot longer for the recovery, and probably made it a little more painful for myself.”
Ricciardo’s mishap occurred in only his third comeback race weekend with AlphaTauri, having returned to the grid in Hungary following Nyck de Vries unceremonious ousting by Red Bull.
But four races later, the Faenza-based outfit’s AT04 has inevitably evolved, which adds another layer of difficulty – in addition to his physical challenge – to Ricciardo’s return.
“So, I went out to Singapore where they had some pretty big updates,” he added. “And that was actually a pretty positive weekend for the team.
“So that looked good. And the drivers were saying that they could feel some good differences. So yeah, I’m expecting a car that is a little stronger than where I left it.
“But I mean, it’s going to be the third race I’ve done this year, so I’m still very green for this season.
“But in saying that, I’m not using that as an excuse, but yeah, everything kind of still feels new to me.”