Feature F1 Unlocked
ANALYSIS: The key factors that ensured Sargeant retained his Williams seat for 2024
And so the 2024 Formula 1 grid is complete, with news Williams have signed Logan Sargeant for a second season alongside Alex Albon. F1 Correspondent Lawrence Barretto takes a look at why the British team have stuck with the American…
Sargeant was under pressure after the 2023 Italian Grand Prix, the American having failed to score a single point, while team mate Albon had managed 21 at that stage, to single-handedly put them seventh in the constructors’ championship.
Monza’s Temple of Speed was one of the tracks Williams had marked out as a race with genuine scoring potential, given their slippery car should in theory excel on the Italian track’s long straights. Sargeant, though, failed to score again – and externally, that heaped the pressure on the American.
Internally, Team Principal James Vowles remained calm. He has backed Sargeant all season long, opting for the ‘arm around the shoulder’ approach rather than chastising him publicly.
But the former Mercedes man did tell Sargeant that he needed to up his game in order to keep his seat and was very fair in giving him until the end of the season to prove he deserved it.
To be fair to Sargeant, he coped with the increasing pressure well, and while there were some notable crashes that caused significant damage, such as in Japan, he demonstrated an upward curve on the data that ultimately yielded a first point, on home soil. That was the first point scored in F1 by an American for 30 years.
From there, he seemed to grow in confidence, the 22-year-old peaking with a brilliant seventh in qualifying for the Las Vegas Grand Prix. Though he failed to turn that into points, sources say internal data showed he was closing the gap to Albon in terms of race pace.
Ultimately, that’s what the team had asked him to do – and Sargeant proved that he was able to withstand the massive pressure that comes with competing in Formula 1.
The team were also keen to prove the worth of their driver academy, which Sargeant has come through to get the F1 seat. In supporting him through a challenging first year – having been impressed by what he demonstrated in the programme previously – it shows commitment to their goals of bringing through young talent and taking a long-term view.
He was helped in part by the lack of competition for his seat. The British team are believed to have talked to 2022 F2 champion Felipe Drugovich – who has been reserve for Aston Martin this season – but decided the Brazilian wasn’t the right call for the seat.
Mick Schumacher, who has fulfilled Mercedes reserve drive duties this season, was never considered a genuine option according to sources. And this year’s F2 champion Theo Pourchaire wasn’t a contender either.
And with all that in mind, keeping Sargeant made the most sense.
Williams took the bold decision to stop developing their car after introducing a sizeable update in Canada, race eight of the 2023 campaign, to focus on the 2024 car.
That has proved a wise decision as they were still able to hold on to seventh in the constructors’ championship – an improvement of three spots in the standings on 2022 – despite their rivals continuing to add updates until the very last race while throwing everything at their car for next year, which they hope will generate another good step in terms of performance.
By keeping Sargeant, they have a driver who will know the team well and, with a good pre-season, should be in good shape to make the most of the new car – when there may well be some low hanging fruit and thus chance for some valuable points – in the early races.
Formula 1 is a tough business, and delivering in year one, with so little testing, is incredibly difficult. Many inside the team feel like he deserves another year to show what he’s made of – and if the team make the step they are hoping for, he should have a car that can regularly fight for points.
His challenge, then, is to deliver on that and prove not only that the team were right to keep him – but that he has a genuine future in Formula 1 beyond 2024.