BARRETTO: How America’s latest Grand Prix hopeful Logan Sargeant was fast-tracked to F1
When Logan Sargeant pulls his visor down, engages first gear and drops the clutch on his Grand Prix debut for Williams in Bahrain next month, he will become the first American in eight years to have had that honour.
The last was Alexander Rossi, who made five starts in 2015 for backmarkers Marussia with a best finish of 12th. Sargeant will have a more structured opportunity with a full-time gig at Dorilton-owned Williams – but the mountain remains steep.
Williams finished last in the constructors’ championship for the fourth occasion in five seasons last time around – and enter the campaign with new Team Principal James Vowles, who doesn’t start work till February 20, and without a Technical Director following FX Demaison’s departure late last year.
The relative instability will mean expectations across the board will be lower, and that will provide Sargeant with an opportunity to find his feet without too much pressure on his shoulders, as he looks to build on a promising career on the motorsport ladder.
A world karting champion in 2015, Sargeant finished second in the Formula 4 UAE championship in 2016 and third in the more competitive British edition a year later. He snatched third in his second season in F3 with Prema, but it was his determination and speed displayed with inconsistent Charouz the year after that enticed Williams to add him to their academy.
Not only did that unlock exposure to a Formula 1 team but it came with the financial support to step up to F2 with Carlin (whom he raced for in British F4) and develop the skills needed to make him a candidate for F1 promotion.
“The targets we set were that he should grow through the season.,” says Williams Sporting Director Sven Smeets. “We didn’t put any championship pressure on him as for us, it was a two-year investment, two years of F2.
“He has progressed at a much quicker speed than we thought. He started off – let’s say mixed, but very quickly going through the season, the speed was there – and all the debriefs with Carlin were very good.
“Then he had a strike of three really good races, including the dominant weekend at Silverstone [where he won his first race of the season]. And he’s just matured very quickly from there. We saw the same process in the simulator.”
Even after that stellar weekend in Silverstone, the preference remained for Sargeant to do two years in F2 – as is the traditional preparation for young drivers hoping to make it to F1 – however it was the first time then Team Principal Jost Capito started to seriously consider him for a race seat for 2023.
At that point, there was a chance F2 champion Oscar Piastri may have been available. And later that year, Nyck de Vries was of interest after he stood in for Alex Albon at Monza and scored points for Williams. But when those two opportunities fizzled out, and with Sargeant continuing to impress with his work in the simulator and his performances on track in F2, Capito pulled the trigger.
It was then up to Sargeant to hold up his end of the bargain – secure a top-six finish in the F2 championship that would yield the required Super Licence points to compete in F1. The American delivered with fourth overall and the accolade of top rookie.
Giving a new driver track time ahead of their debut is difficult these days in F1 because of testing restrictions – and it’s particularly challenging for teams like Williams who don’t have a Testing Previous Cars (TPC) programme as most teams, including Ferrari, McLaren and Alpine, do.
So, Williams have done the best with what they’ve got. They put Sargeant in the car in FP1 for the final four events of last season – Austin, Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi – and ran him in the end-of-year young driver test at Yas Marina where he got more than a Grand Prix distance’s worth of laps under his belt.
He's also spending a bunch of time at the factory in Grove – a short commute from London where he lives – and will get more track experience, this time with the new 2023 car, in Bahrain later this month when pre-season testing gets under way.
“Promotion was ultimately the goal,” says Sargeant. “Williams made it very clear at the start, their show of support, as I was given an F1 test opportunity two months after signing. They gave me everything I’ve needed to have the best season I could possibly have, and be the best driver I could be. I owe them for that.”
He'll line up alongside Alex Albon, one of the stand-out performers of 2022, who hustled his Williams to three points-scoring finishes. He’ll be a tough team mate to beat, but a great benchmark with which Sargeant can challenge himself. As the young American has been embedded with the team for more than a year now, they have had a head start on getting to know each other.
“I’ve spent a decent bit [of time with Albon],” says Sargeant. “He’s been extremely helpful. Everything I’ve asked, he’s been very open in trying to help to the best of his ability. He’s done his best to help me to get ready for this opportunity. Not everyone will do that.”
That he carries the hope of one of the world’s biggest nations, at a time when F1’s popularity Stateside is growing and where there are three Grands Prix this season (Miami, Austin and new-for-2023 Las Vegas), doesn’t seem to faze him.
“I feel like, at the end of the day, I’ve put in as much hard work as anyone else to reach this point,” he says. “And I just have to look at it as ‘prepare the best I possibly can to be the best driver I can possibly be’. And hopefully I can represent well and make them proud. But I don't think it's any extra pressure to be honest. I feel like I have high expectations for myself as it is.”