đź“ť F1 '23: The cast stays the same

With Logan Sargeant re-signing with Williams for 2024, Formula 1 has done something it has never done before.

The drivers who finished the last Grand Prix of the previous season will be the lineup that starts the first race of the next season. In a sport that is known for its drama, there are no new characters entering in the first episode of Formula 1’s next season. The same cast of characters will be jostling for greater prominence on the bill, but there will be no newcomers with the series still filmed in front of a live studio audience (except maybe for practice viewers in Las Vegas). Ahem.

Liam Lawson ensured that Sargeant technically finished 21st in a 20-driver championship, with a ninth in Singapore outearning that solitary point earned in Texas. Every driver in 2023 scored at least one point, and this vote of confidence should put a spring in the American’s step in his sophomore season, but this second year gives his challengers another 12 months to hone and perfect their game ahead of a game of musical chairs in 2024.

After fighting the rumours of Mick Schumacher’s return in September (he has joined Alpine in WEC), another Mercedes-affiliated driver in the form vice-champion Frederik Vesti, or the Red Bull-affiliated Lawson, who has points and a little F1 experience, none of these are joining the grid next year.

You could even throw the likes of Zak O’Sullivan or Franco Colapinto in as potential 2025 options considering how they do with two of the acronym teams in Formula 2 at ART and MP Motorsport respectively.

This extension offers Sargeant a 12-month liferaft, but it’s a device that is going to slowly deflate unless the Floridian, who turns 23 before lights out in Bahrain, competes on a more equal plane as Alex Albon, who is going to have a huge spotlight on him in the last year of his contract and open seats at some of the sport’s faster teams. 

And why wouldn’t one of those drivers not try and head for the famous outfit, thinking they are the one to lead Williams back to podiums and victories. If 2023 is anything to go by, Red Bull will overtake their 114 race victories very quickly by 2024. If and when they get demoted to fifth, Williams will become the team that has the fewest wins and at least one Constructors’ Championship among active F1 teams.

While the thought of winning is a long way away, there is no reason why Williams should not be competing for the lower points paying positions in 2024. This is the season that Sargeant has to step up and show that he can lead a team - something he may well have to do if he is to get a third year. But perhaps these are the best conditions for him to be given that extension.

Williams finished seventh in the Teams’ Championship, looking over their shoulder at the three teams below rather than the 92-point gap to Alpine in sixth. With Haas, Sauber and whatever Alpha Tauri are going to be called in 2024 also not changing their driver pairings, this may have become an easier decision for Williams to make, banking on an increased rate of driver development than their rivals, 

And why not? This is the team that pushed George Russell forward and for every pay driver that revved an engine in anger, Williams can historically name drivers like Nico Rosberg and Valtteri Bottas as drivers who started at the team.

For that reason, it could be seen as surprising that Frederik Vesti wasn’t added to the driver roster. The Danish driver had a great season in 2023, only losing out to Theo Pourchaire in Formula 2 on the final race weekend. An intelligent and brave driver, the pipeline between Williams and Mercedes has been massively successful, and Vesti could have been another example of that.

The lack of a change could be due to the teams below not changing their lineups, and also as a sign of intent from James Vowles. The Williams team principal joined the team from Mercedes at the start of 2023 and his first year in charge will be seen as a success, regardless of what happens in his second. 

It would have been easy for Vowles to do a favour to his old employer and help his current one at the same time. Take a bit of a risk, zig where others zag and other cliches you’ll see on LinkedIn or something.

But on profiles of Vowles and even his own LinkedIn (sidenote, it always surprises me when famous people have a LinkedIn), it shows that he is used to doing things the hard way, being strategist for Brawn GP in the year they won the F1 titles in their only F1 season. He was long established at Mercedes, spending two decades at the Brackley-based team in its various guises before stepping up to the head role at Williams.

So this low risk move makes sense from the driver’s point of view, as well as the team’s, knowing that there isn’t the need to take that risk because improvement will be hard to achieve, and with all the other driver lineups standing still, they’ll hope for the least experienced driver in the bottom half of the grid has more to learn compared to his rivals.

So we finally have confirmation of the 20 drivers that will take on Sakhir in March, but the real question remains: Will these 20 be the ones that finish the season in Abu Dhabi?

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