Tsunoda was tipped to be announced this weekend, at his home event, and Ricciardo is thought to have had his deal in place since rejoining the team after the post-British GP tyre test.
Lawson has stolen the headlines in recent weeks as he substitutes for Ricciardo after the Australian broke his hand in Zandvoort.
It is no exaggeration to say he has done an exceptional job, and on that alone deserves a seat on the Formula 1 grid.
But the sport is seldom that simple, and the New Zealander has found himself in the right place at the wrong time.
Speaking to the press on Friday in Suzuka, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner alluded to Lawson's F1 fate before the announcement was made on Saturday.
“We've got a luxury problem where we've got three into two in that team obviously is an AlphaTauri issue,” he began.
“But there's three great drivers and it's a nice headache to have.
“He will be a grand prix driver. He already is a grand prix driver. At some stage, whether he has to wait a little for that or not, I think he's demonstrating his talent for the future.”
Lawson's performances cannot be ignored.
Dropped in the deep end in Zandvoort, his performance simply to see the flag on Sunday afternoon was phenomenal.
He then raced well in Monza at the Italian Grand Prix, his first full F1 weekend, and even got the better of Oscar Piastri when the pair went wheel-to-wheel.
Last time out in Singapore he scored his first world championship points, and Scuderia AlphaTauri's best result of 2023.
His talent is obvious, but the sample size remains small. On balance, Lawson was the biggest gamble of the three drivers available for Scuderia AlphaTauri.
For the most part, Formula 1 is a risk management business, and right now the team doesn't have to take a punt; it needs stability and experience.
There are political considerations too.
Ricciardo was always going to be in the car next season, he would not have returned for a half-season roll of the dice.
That leaves the other car, where Tsunoda is both a Red Bull and a Honda-backed driver.
It must be added that Tsunoda has done a good job this year. He has matured as a driver with his peers suggesting he was one of the top performers through the first half of the season.
The reality is then that it was always highly unlikely Lawson would get a race drive with the squad for 2024. All he could really do is maximise his opportunity and make his selection for 2025 unavoidable.
That is precisely what he has done.
“I think he's done an outstanding job,” Horner said of Lawson's performances.
“I mean, he dropped it in, in the rain, at Zandvoort. That was a bit of an eye-opener for him but I think he did do well there.
“And then a week later in Monza, he was unlucky to miss out on the point.
“Then seeing Singapore for the first time and scoring a couple of points. Yeah, he's a gritty racer, we know that about him.
“He's grabbed this opportunity in Formula 1 that very seldom drivers get a chance to demonstrate their talent and I think he's done a tremendous job and certainly has put himself firmly on the radar and cemented the feeling that we that we had about him.”
While still likely a year away, it would be safe to pencil Lawson into the Faenza team (the Scuderia AlphaTauri will change for 2024) for the 2025 F1 campaign already.
The reality is, a year on the sidelines will not unduly hurt the 22-year-old.
Of course, a race drive is the best option, but that's not on the table for next year. The best thing he can do is be first in line for 2025.
Thus far he is in that position. Now it's about keeping his head down, doing as Red Bull asks (as he always have) and continuing to deliver to the best of his ability.
It is how he responds to the knowledge that he will not be in F1 that will determine his return.
He may not like it, and who can blame him, but the best thing he can do now is remain patient.