A 22-0 whitewash in qualifying, and 27-1 points split are the bare numbers behind Sargeant’s first season relative to team-mate Alex Albon. Sargeant was comprehensively overshadowed after being promoted earlier than expected when other options to replace Nicholas Latifi fell through.
Looking purely at results, which is what F1 is all about, Williams could have been expected to jettison the 22-year-old Floridian, who has seen flashes of promise hampered by a persistent lack of consistency.
But while extending his stay may be a pragmatic choice influenced by several factors, Vowles has put his money where his mouth is by continuing to back a driver brought in by his predecessor Jost Capito, not just through public support but by giving him a second chance.
His thinking stems from data that suggests Sargeant has been respectably close in raw potential to Albon, who has been hailed as one of the standout drivers of 2023. Sargeant’s seventh place in qualifying at Las Vegas shows what he can do if he gets his act together. He was also within a tenth of Albon at the extremely tricky Losail circuit in Qatar, with the added difficulty of it being a sprint weekend.
But those outliers came amid a series of high-profile crashes and other slip-ups that compromised his qualifying position and increased pressure on his seat. Seeing both his Abu Dhabi Q1 laps deleted for crossing track limits, which would have been good enough for Q2, was a telling end to his rookie campaign.
But the old adage is that it is easier to make a quick driver more consistent than it is to make a slow and steady driver fast. Williams hopes that armed with a year of experience Sargeant’s 2024 campaign will build on the knowledge he has gathered, having been urged to control the risks he takes rather than overdrive the car trying to keep up with Albon.
Speaking to Autosport after his qualifying breakthrough in Las Vegas, Vowles said: “The worst thing you can do is go too far and overdrive the car. Now you don’t know where the limit is and you don’t know where to come back to either.
Photo by: Williams
Sargeant’s second chance was announced by Williams on Friday
“He’s doing an incredible job. It’s hard probably to explain to the world how good a job he is doing and the growth of it.
“But when you come into the sport as a rookie, where you’ve done a few 100 kilometres of testing, it’s really hard to find where the limit of yourself and the car is. And it’s taken a year to get there.
“But you’re now seeing the result of that and the dividends are paying off. He’s really matured over the last few races.”
That follows the Franz Tost school of thought. The outgoing AlphaTauri boss has always said that a young driver needs three years to become a proper grand prix driver.
It is clear that some outliers, such as McLaren’s exciting gem Oscar Piastri, buck that trend. But Sargeant finished within four points of the Australian when both drove for Prema in Formula 3, so Williams will hope he can unlock more of that potential in 2024.
A rookie for a rookie?
Then there’s the pragmatic side of the decision. If Williams were to replace Sargeant, then who with?
Following its stellar 2018 season which featured Albon, Lando Norris and George Russell, there have been fewer obvious stars of the future coming through F2, with Piastri again the one glittering exception.
Given that Williams’ own Zak O’Sullivan and impressive Macau GP winner Luke Browning are nowhere near ready yet, the three drivers most deserving of a shot happen to be the ones finishing ahead of Sargeant in the 2022 championship; Felipe Drugovich, Theo Pourchaire and Liam Lawson. But all three are tied to a rival team in Aston Martin, Sauber and Red Bull respectively.
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
Alternatives to Sargeant are scarce, with F2 champion Pourchaire tied to the Sauber team
There is no way the latter would have released Lawson given the vital role he plays as a reserve driver, keeping the pressure on Sergio Perez and AlphaTauri drivers Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo following his impressive cameo in 2023.
Perhaps Williams could have had more success trying to pry loose Drugovich or Pourchaire, with the two most recent F2 champions finding the door to F1 closed for the coming campaign.
But the risk of replacing one debutant with another is that the learning process, and all the rookie errors to come with it, will start all over again. Which is the last thing Williams needs as it fights for every point in its Vowles-led rebuild.
If there was another generational talent like Piastri waiting in the wings, then that would have been a no-brainer for Williams. But it’s understandable it thought better of throwing away all the work it did with Sargeant and the continuity he offers for drivers that seem like modest upgrades at best.
Besides, it is perhaps not in the Grove team’s best interests to take another team’s junior on loan and develop him for its rivals. It worked with Russell, but he was loaned from Mercedes for three years, so Williams could also reap the rewards itself as he scored vital points in his third season.
But with a much more intriguing driver market shaping up for 2025 and beyond, it would have made little sense to start all over again with another rookie when more long-term options open up at the end of next year.
In the meantime, Sargeant may have been handed a lifeline that not everybody believes he deserves. Now it is up to him to repay Williams for its refreshing faith.
Photo by: Williams
Can Sargeant make the most of his second chance in 2024?