What we’ve learned about Williams car woe and Sargeant sacrifice

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The problems that forced Williams to sideline Logan Sargeant at Formula 1’s Australian Grand Prix will cost it a spare chassis in Japan as well and further delay its upgrade plan.

Williams has given Sargeant’s car to Alex Albon in Melbourne after Albon crashed so heavily in practice on Friday that his own chassis could not be repaired at the track, and Williams does not have a spare in Australia.

Sargeant was stood down because Williams believes Albon is the team’s best chance of scoring points with only one car on Sunday.

Williams is in this position because of the hugely compromised winter that left it massively behind with its car build.

Team principal James Vowles had already called having no spare chassis at the third round of the season “unacceptable” but elaborated on the situation and its various consequences when addressing media including The Race’s Edd Straw further on Saturday morning in Melbourne.

He explained how Williams slipped away from its original intention of having all three chassis ready for race one in Bahrain because of the inherent inefficiencies in its processes, combined with the behind-the-scenes winter overhaul enacted by Vowles and chief technical officer Pat Fry, as previously detailed by The Race.

But the expectation was still to have the spare here in Australia – before its plan was set back again.

“In this particular case, the third chassis started to get delayed and delayed and delayed,” said Vowles.

“We were very late with these cars, very, very late.

“Even when it was intended to be coming here, at round three, it got delayed and delayed again as other items got pushed back as a result.”

MAKING THE DECISION

Once the extent of the damage was uncovered, Williams had no choice but to race only one car in Australia.

The front right corner of the chassis had a hole punctured into it, the gearbox was cracked in two, the engine mounts bent, and the power unit itself “done”. It is expected to arrive at the Williams headquarters in Grove “about Monday 2am”, which is when the repair job will start.

Withdrawing that car was the easy part. Deciding to give Sargeant’s car to Albon was more difficult ethically and practically.

The drivers had not previously been told that if they crashed, this would be the outcome.

“It was a difficult discussion that I had with both drivers yesterday, but only in reaction to the fact that we only have one car,” said Vowles.

While this situation has demonstrated Williams cannot afford to take risks, as well as highlighting who will be prioritised should this unique scenario arise again, Vowles said it had not been drilled into the drivers that they could not afford to damage the car.

So, while Sargeant may have developed a concern of his own that Albon could take his chassis, as things played out on Friday, it was not something set in stone prior to the event.

Vowles said it would be “probably worse” to have tried to tell Albon and Sargeant “don’t take any risks” or “do something that’s entirely unnatural to them”.

“It’s not how I operate with the drivers, but I think they have enough awareness now with what’s happened over the last 24 hours what situation we’re in,” he said.

Sargeant participated in FP2 while Williams initially assessed the damage on Albon’s car, and Vowles said at that point it was possible that the American could complete the weekend.

The other factor in making this decision was “you need to make sure you’re legally covered”, which is as much about commercial partners as ensuring Williams was within its rights to sideline Sargeant specifically.

After Vowles had spoken with representatives of team owner Dorilton, Williams communicated the situation and its decision to its sponsors before it was publicly announced.

THE CONSEQUENCES FOR SARGEANT

One of the most widely discussed reactions to this decision was whether it showed Williams lacks faith in Sargeant.

After a challenging rookie campaign he was retained for a second season, with a key factor in that decision being the absence of a compelling long-term alternative.

He has also started 2024 clearly slower than Albon, and been outqualified and outraced in the two events so far, which made the decision of who to pick simpler from the perspective of who is more likely to achieve the best result.

But many have suggested that it shows Williams should not have re-signed Sargeant in the first place if it does not have the faith in him to deliver for the team when needed.

“No, I don’t think that’s the case. The fact I re-signed him shows you I have faith in him,” Vowles replied, when asked if it showed an absence of faith, before reiterating it was a case of having to “put your money on the driver that so far this year, has been slightly ahead of the other one, which is Alex”.

But Vowles did admit that this will inevitable “damage” Sargeant’s confidence because “he hasn’t made a single mistake, he didn’t put a foot wrong across this year, and yet I’ve taken them out of the car”.

He is hopeful that Sargeant will get that back by performing well when he returns for the next race in Japan in two weeks’ time – and praised him for his “maturity and understanding”.

“I nowhere near had his maturity when I was his age,” said Vowles.

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

THE CONSEQUENCES FOR WILLIAMS

The upshot of all this for Williams is that while Sargeant should race in Japan, it will likely be missing a spare car with the priority being to repair Albon’s chassis in the time available.

When asked about this by The Race, Vowles said he could not actually give a “100%” guarantee of two cars being ready for Japan until the team in the UK has properly inspected things but was overwhelmingly confident it would be achieved.

The Monday return of the damaged chassis “gives us effectively near enough a week and that’s sufficient amounts of time”.

“I’ve seen chassis in worse states come back from this,” said Vowles. “100% is a difficult number to give you and as a statistics man, I wouldn’t say 100%.

“But I would say you have a very high probability it will all be fine.”

However, this means what was set to be the team’s spare going forward will now be further delayed.

That means having to avoid another big accident at the track Sargeant crashed last year (an incident, pictured below, that let him having to use old-specification parts) and where Williams withdrew Robert Kubica from the race in 2019 after he crashed heavily in qualifying because of another parts shortage.

Beyond Japan, the expectation is that a spare chassis will finally be ready for the Chinese GP, the race that follows.

There are other consequences too, though. This is, in one go, a massive chunk of the damage allocation Williams has set aside for the season so there could be budget cap ramifications further down the line.

And in the short-term it is yet another setback for the team’s already delayed development plan.

“The reason why it’s come about is because we are on the back foot with everything,” Vowles reiterated.

“As we try and move through the process and systems and transformation, something’s being pushed out the back and in this case, it’s the third chassis.

“That also means that as we go through now, we have updates planned and other items planned, but I’m having to divert the entire workforce to getting this chassis in a good state without losing the momentum we have on the third chassis and on updates.

“Something will give, there’s no doubt about it.”

HOW THIS HAS GONE DOWN INTERNALLY

In addition to praising Sargeant’s reaction to being stood down, Vowles took time to highlight the response from Williams’s trackside team as well.

Sargeant and his side of the garage have travelled all the way to Australia, a 24-hour journey from the UK, just to have their race weekends abandoned after one day on-track.

Vowles said he spoke to the team to explain the decision and to ask them to “pull together, not pull apart”, over the situation.

In terms of “how demoralised or how people are feeling about things”, Vowles said to look at the response to stripping down Sargeant’s car and moving across Albon’s components.

“The car crews last night pulled together and did shift work to fundamentally get this car to where it is at the moment,” said Vowles.

“So instead of pulling apart, the team pulled together, which is something I’ve observed here and something that makes me really proud to be here leading this organisation.

“The same with the engineering teams, what they’re doing right now is splitting the workload of how do we go together forward and score points.

“Everyone recognises this isn’t a situation that anyone wanted.

“But conversely, this is not the time to back down, this is the time to double down on it and work together.”

As for Albon, who was 13th in final practice and now has to race under the pressure of justifying this decision knowing he has taken his team-mate’s car after crashing himself, Vowles admitted he is “thankful” but “conflicted”.

“He knows that he’s the reason why Logan isn’t able to race today and that frustrates him,” said Vowles.

“The converse to it is any racing driver I’ve met wants to go out there and give 100% for the team and even more so now that they realise the sacrifice that’s been made for them to do that.”



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