With Dandelion driver Kakunoshin Ota stalling on the grid after qualifying second, Lawson got on the offensive from third place and challenged his Mugen team-mate Nojiri for the lead in the opening sequence of corners.
The two drivers ran side-by-side into the Turn 2 right-hander but Lawson was left with little room and had to go over the kerbs at the exit of the corner.
This left him spinning back on track in uncontrollable fashion, with both Tadasuke Makino and Yuhi Sekiguchi unable to avoid him and going airborne after the impact. Nobuharu Matsushita was also involved in the melee, prompting the race control to bring out red flags.
While Makino, Sekiguchi and Matsushita all retired on the spot, Lawson was incredibly able to get his car back into the pits, with Mugen mechanics successfully completing a full repair before the race resumed.
However, a drive-through penalty for violating Super Formula’s rules regarding working on the car under red flags put paid to any hopes of a strong recovery, with the Kiwi eventually finishing a distant 13th.
Liam Lawson, TEAM MUGEN
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
Asked to explain the lead battle with Nojiri from his point of view, Lawson maintained that he had been pushed wide by his team-mate, but also felt he could have been left aggressive and backed out of the move.
“Looking back, maybe I was too aggressive and I should have stayed second,” the 21-year-old told Motorsport.com. “But I’m a racing driver, so I always go for a gap.”
He added: “It was aggressive, I stand by [saying that I was] pushed off. It’s a long corner, and from the entry of the corner, I had wheels alongside. As we went further round the corner, I continued to move alongside, I was gaining and gaining.
“When you race against different drivers, you have an idea of how people race. On certain drivers, I wouldn’t go for that kind of move. But on Nojiri-san, normally I would go for it based on how he’s raced me this year.
“But because it’s two races to go and he needed to make up points, maybe he was more aggressive today. To be honest, I didn’t expect it. Lap one, looking back, I should have just left it, but at the time I felt I had been pushed off.
“You have incidents all the time when it’s not your fault, but you could have done something differently to avoid it. I didn’t drive myself off the track, but maybe I was too aggressive.”
Lawson was frustrated with Nojiri’s defence over team radio, claiming the Japanese driver had pushed him wide in a furious message.
However, Lawson revealed that they have since spoken to each other and cleared the air.
“Initially I was upset because of the incident and the points situation, but after being his team-mate this long, I know he’s a very good person,” he said.
“I have a lot of respect for him and I know he wouldn’t intentionally push me off or cause an accident. Maybe he thought he had left me more space, but from my side I could have backed out and played it safer. We spoke and everything is ok.”
Lawson started the race level on points with TOM’S driver Ritomo Miyata, having bagged an extra bonus point for qualifying third.
But his first non-score of the season has left him eight points adrift of Miyata, who finished fourth after recovering from a stall on the original start.
Nojiri, whose chances of a third Super Formula title were looking bleak after he had to miss the Autopolis round in May due to a collapsed lung, is now only two points behind Lawson in the standings with just the final two races at Suzuka to run in October.