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Formula 1

Our verdict on savage Williams F1 driver swap for Australian GP

7 min read

Williams benching Logan Sargeant so team-mate Alex Albon can race is an unprecedented scenario in modern Formula 1.

But has Williams made the right call in allowing Albon to use Sargeant's car for the rest of the weekend, having damaged his own in an FP1 crash beyond immediate repair?

Here's what our writers think:

A damning indictment of Williams’s limitations

Scott Mitchell-Malm

Williams has inflicted "the hardest moment I can remember in my career" on its own driver. For a reason team boss James Vowles admits is wholly "unacceptable" for a modern F1 team.

Viewing this decision in isolation, it's tough on Sargeant. Really tough. But it's within the boundaries of being understandable and acceptable because Williams needs to prioritise the best possible result. And 99 times out of 100 you get that from Albon, not Sargeant.

Still... while you can argue this doesn't say much for Sargeant, for his ability, for what he's proven (or not proven), for his place in the team - it says way more about Williams, and the team's problems and limitations.

It's a damning indictment of where Williams has fallen in key areas and the progress it still needs to make.

Ultimately the answer to this wasn't 'prioritise Albon' or 'leave Sargeant to drive'.

It was 'don't be in the unfathomable situation of not having a spare car ready three rounds into a world championship, at the pinnacle of motorsport, for a second race in a row on a track lined with unforgiving walls'.

There have already been some eyebrow-raising details about a deeply troubled winter for Williams but this has exposed another major consequence, and only serves to underline everything Vowles has been forthcoming about since joining Williams from Mercedes.

This gives him another chance to beat the drum that change - big change - is essential. And another tale of woe to add to the pile of things that Williams desperately needs to ensure never happens again.

A public vote of no-confidence

Glenn Freeman

Even as someone who thought Sargeant was lucky to keep his drive for this season, I think this is harsh.

It's one thing for outside observers to question if he's up to the task. It's quite another for Williams to tell the world it doesn't have that faith in him.

I admire the bravery to take the decision, but how does Sargeant come back from such a public vote of no confidence? Your team has just told you in the most brutal way possible that it doesn't think you're up to the job of scoring the precious points it needs in that fierce battle in the back half of the field.

All the talk that we heard as justification for keeping him for 2024 is undone by this decision.

Barring a miracle turnaround from Sargeant over the rest of this season, which seems unlikely based on what we've seen so far, Williams has surely made his position in the team vulnerable for beyond this year. After this weekend, team and driver have to live with that for another 21 races.

Is this decision really going to help get the best out of Sargeant over the rest of this year? I hope for Williams's sake that Albon comes through a chaotic race with a useful haul of points to justify this.

A trait Williams has always had - and will need again

Edd Straw

Williams is a team that built its glory days on unsentimentally brutal pragmatism and this is a decision absolutely in the spirit of that.

It’s harsh on Sargeant and everyone working on his side of the garage, but it is all about a team deploying its resources to maximise its chances of getting a result. There’s overwhelming evidence Albon is the stronger driver, so it’s right to go ensure he is in its sole car.

It would have been easy to hide behind fairness and not make this call. But the line of least resistance doesn’t earn you success in F1, so Williams team principal James Vowles has proved he isn’t afraid to make the tough decisions.

That’s a trait that Williams needs if it’s to haul its way back up the grid in the coming years.

Brutal but Sargeant wasn't powerless

Josh Suttill

This is a brutal order for any driver to stomach. Not least a young driver only in their second year in F1, trying desperately to build a bit of career momentum after a frustrating rookie year and a 2024 start so far that's just felt like a continuation of last season.

It's a horrible pill for Sargeant to swallow, he did nothing wrong this weekend but, unfortunately, this decision has its roots in his underwhelming F1 career so far.

Had this been his third weekend in F1 it would have been understandable why he's clearly the second, sacrificable driver but this is Sargeant's 25th F1 race weekend as a Williams driver.

So far he's been consistently a few tenths behind Albon and had one meagre point to Albon's 27. There simply hasn't been a weekend so far where he's genuinely been the quicker Williams driver across the weekend, so betting on Albon to do a better job in Melbourne is a near no-brainer.

And that's a situation (chassis spare situation aside) that can only take place at maybe one or two other teams where there's a similarly large team-mate disparity.

Had Sargeant had a much stronger rookie year and provided Albon with greater competition, he may well have turned this marginal dilemma into an obvious 'we can't do that' for Williams.

There are risks to Williams's gamble

Valentin Khorounzhiy

Logan Sargeant took care of his Williams FW46, so he deserves to start the Australian Grand Prix. Alex Albon didn't - so he doesn't.

Those, to me, are true statements. But, in the words of one of the more beloved Best Picture winners in history, "deserve's got nothing to do with it".

I'm a believer in Sargeant's talent, but evidence from the past year and a bit that he'd give Williams a better shot over the rest of the weekend than Albon is virtually non-existent.

So if I'm a Williams rank-and-file and I see James Vowles take this decision, I don't love it, but I get it. If I see him avoid this decision, it's a failure to put the interests of the team - and the interests of the vast majority of people who made the long trek to Melbourne for a gruelling race weekend - first.

But benching Sargeant for Albon here isn't so much the best decision as the least worst. And it can be made to look wrong in hindsight.

What if Albon ends up trundling around to 14th? Then you've knocked Sargeant's confidence and created a public stir over just how much you really value him for nothing.

Or... what if Albon crashes again, having already done that not just earlier this weekend but also on lap seven of last year's race? What would that do to his confidence? Imagine the conversations he'll end up seeing among TV pundits or those on social media.

The swap consigns Williams to a grumpy, nervy weekend. But there was never going to be a good way out of this.

A logical business decision

Ben Anderson

It’s unusual certainly, but the right call in the circumstances for Williams.

Albon is unquestionably the faster of the team’s two drivers, and therefore has by far the better chance of nicking a marginal point or two (if any of the top five teams slip up) from a race he was very competitive in last year - before he spun off.

This is all an unfortunate knock-on effect from Williams living through a tough winter and being massively behind the times in terms of how it goes about building F1 cars.

It was barely ready in time for testing and simply cannot claw that time back given the frenetic and far-flung nature of this early part of the season.

It only has itself to blame for not having enough spare parts, and Sargeant paying for Albon’s mistake is extremely tough on him, but you can only play the hand you have in front of you and so, in a situation where you have to choose between two drivers for one car, this decision is the logical one that offers the highest potential reward.

Why keep Sargeant if this is how things are?

Charley Williams

Logan Sargeant, Williams, F1

It’s easy to focus on the comparison between Sargeant and Albon here, but the real question should be why is there still no spare chassis, three races into the season. The production delay excuse can only go so far and as a consequence Williams has punished the driver who didn’t put their car in the wall. 

That aside, why re-sign a driver who you don’t believe can get the job done? How does a driver come back from such a public vote of no confidence from his team? 

This could have been Logan’s opportunity to rise to the occasion and prove his worth on this grid - but instead, his hard work has been left to come undone, and his confidence more than likely shattered. 

Logical but surprising

Gary Anderson

These are tough decisions but the team must come first. It has to be made and not everybody will be happy about it. If anyone is going to score points it’s Albon.

However I’m a bit surprised Williams didn’t have enough spares to repair Albon's car.

I suppose it’s early in the season and if the chassis is damaged beyond repair at the circuit then it is understandable.

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