Inside Vowles’ Williams decision to bench Sargeant for Albon


During Friday practice for the 2024 Australian Grand Prix, the worst nightmare of Williams’ chief James Vowles came true.

A revolution of how the team builds its chassis meant there were numerous delays as the FW46 arrived “very late”, although still earlier than the FW42 of 2019 that missed the start of pre-season testing.

As such, the delays resulted in the team being unable to prepare a third, spare chassis on-time, meaning Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant had one chassis apiece for the first batch of races until the spare was built.

So, then, simple instructions would be: ‘Whatever you do, don’t crash and damage the chassis’.

But Albon crashed heavily in FP1 at Turn 7/8, destroying his chassis and meaning on paper, Williams’ best chance of points was gone.

However, Vowles opted to take the drastic decision to re-assign the remaining chassis from a faultless Sargeant to Albon.

Here is the story.

No lacking faith

“I don’t think that’s the case, the fact that I re-signed him shows you I have faith in him,” Vowles told media including RacingNews365, when asked if the decision showed that he had no faith in Sargeant.

“This year, I think you’ve seen he’s been closer to Alex than before. However, I have one car and just one car.

“There are five very fast teams taking up those top 10 positions – there’s no points apart from if you’re in the top 10, and there’s one point separating the bottom five teams at the moment.

“And so every point will make a difference between now and the end of the year, therefore you put your money on the driver that so far this year has been slightly ahead of the other one, which is Alex.

“So I’ve reset everything. Taking a view from Bahrain, taking the view from Saudi and taking a view from here, which of the two drivers is most likely to score points?

“Before you make a decision like this, you need to make sure that you’re legally covered in every regard, without question.

“So there are several things you do as an organization, first and foremost we communicated to all of our sponsors before we spoke to [the media] to make sure that they are aware of the situation.

“‘This is where we are, this is what we’re doing to remedy it, and these are the decisions I’ve taken as a result of it.’

“The normal procedure of this is you speak to the board, you speak to your sponsors, make sure they’re aware.”


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Sargeant’s reaction

When the news was communicated of the chassis swap, Sargeant described it as the “hardest moment of his career”, with the American remaining in Melbourne for the remainder of the weekend.

Vowles described how informing Sargeant of the decision was one of his “hardest decisions.”

“First and foremost it’s very difficult, when you have an elite athlete that’s doing nothing but what I’ve asked him to do this year, he hasn’t made a single mistake, he didn’t put a foot wrong across this year. And yet I’ve taken him out of the car,” Vowles explained.

“So that would damage whether it’s you in the car or him in the car, it would damage your confidence.

“He’s frustrated by it because he wants to be performing at the highest level. But equally, he understands and recognizes that as a team sport, I’ve had to make one of the hardest decisions so far in my position here.

“He gets up in the morning to get into a racing car and drive quickly.

“And from his perspective, he did nothing wrong, which I think is an entirely fair reflection on what happened.

“He wants to be successful within this organization, and he wants us to be successful as a team, and that overrides his personal ambition for being in the car, in terms of where he is, his help will be absolutely required in order for us to move forward.”

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Moving forward with the chassis

Such was the damage sustained, the chassis could not be repaired trackside, with Vowles detailing the extent of the damage – with it being fast-tracked back to Grove for repair work before re-entering the pool for the Japanese Grand Prix.

“The gearbox was cracked, the engine mounts were completely bent and the engine is done, fundamentally, and the chassis on the front right corner where the suspension goes in, is torn apart,” said Vowles.

“I can put my finger into the chassis, which you shouldn’t be able to do just for clarity.

“Overnight the team has been brilliant at working with the structures and stress department, to find out how we are going to fix this in a short period of time.

“The team has managed to get the car back for around 2am on Monday, so we have teams already working on it for Monday onwards in order to get it repaired.

“Until they see it in person, it’ll be very difficult. We’re doing things by photo, but there’s about four or five mitigation plans in place.

“It’s hard until I get the chassis physically back there to give you a full acknowledgement of how difficult it will be.

“But based on the conversations we’ve had overnight, it should all be achievable. The car has to leave by Saturday in order to make it back on time, which gives us effectively a week [before Japan].”

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