🇦🇺 F1'24: R3: The Birthday Present

Logan Sargeant's gift did not give Williams any points

What did you get for your most recent birthday? I guarantee it wasn’t as good as what Alex Albon was gifted.

Williams’ Thai driver got - with the full blessing of the team and his teammate - a spare car from Logan Sargeant after mashing his own into the wall.

Albon eventually finished 11th, and that position does not get a you a point, unless someone else ahead of you is the subject of a press release while you’re sitting on the plane home. The worst position to finish, in some ways, this is good for tiebreakers with the other teams on zero points, but not as good as actually scoring points, obviously.

It’s almost a rare miss from Albon, who has made a career out of maximising his second chances. After being part of the Red Bull Junior Team, Albon finished third in F2 behind Lando Norris and George Russell, graduating to the elite grid alongside the pair for 2019. The feeder system working as intended. Albon was given half a season in the Toro Rosso before being a midseason replacement for Red Bull.

He was the driver in the other Red Bull during the pandemic season before finding himself without a drive as Sergio Perez replaced him in 2021.

Albon made the most of his year off in an Alpha Tauri, but representing them in DTM while being Red Bull’s reserve driver. He got some laps in at Silverstone during the bad-tempered 2021 title battle, replicating the line Lewis Hamilton took when the Mercedes driver collided with Max Verstappen.

Although he was coaching Yuki Tsunoda, and was test driving, when his name emerged as an option for Williams, it was something of a surprise. He received his second chance back on the grid, announcing his return by the third race, putting in 57 laps on a set of hard tyres in Australia 2022 and stealing a point for Williams.

As 2024 started, Albon’s ability to handle the new spec of F1 car had been noticed by other teams, and it was widely regarded that he was the key domino that would help set the rest of the 2025 grid. Hamilton’s move and Oliver Bearman’s sudden emergence has perhaps made Albon a supporting, rather than main character in next season’s driver market, if he even moves at all. 

Williams are making steps forward and have been for some years, and the days of Sergey Sirotkin and Nicolas Latifi trundling around the back on merit feel like a relic. But there are still a few red flags that any team needs to consider if they truly want to compete in the midfield and beyond again.

Not having a spare chassis on site, a casual 10,000+ miles away from home was a big miss for a team that was gaining a reputation for being aware of the detail.

Team Principal James Vowles had developed a strong reputation at Mercedes and saw the chance to put his own stamp on things at the team, restoring the famous name among the luxury car manufacturers and energy drinks and Gene Haas. Williams are pure racers, and having to sacrifice one of your drivers by literally not putting them on the grid removes half of their reason for existing on a race weekend.

“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.”

James Vowles

Or at least, I say Williams were getting more and more across the detail. It had emerged this week that the production of their F1 racing machines - some of the world’s most sophisticated, delicate and advanced machinery - was being tracked in Microsoft Excel.

If you allowed me the time to list my frustrations with Microsoft, this would be a very long blog. But I suspect this is not why you’re reading. The company famous for having the world’s most punchable paperclip was being relied upon to track the build of the FW46. 

Think about this. It would be like me keeping my bank account details in Football Manager, or thinking Civilisation is a reliable indicator of world history. Or thinking that what you say in Teams is real life.

I’ve said it before. This is Formula 1. It should be the best of the best, from the drivers, the cars, the tracks, the media, the production values. Every race is a Super Bowl level event if not a playoff game. It is absolutely unfathomable for a driver to not…well, drive! because the car was being used in a remake of Sophie’s Choice, with Alex Albon being anointed the preferred child.

At least that was not in doubt. Albon scored all but one of the team’s points in 2023, and has had success and blowouts in Albert Park. Logan Sargeant was the last driver to have his spot confirmed in 2024, and the vultures are already circling overhead on who Williams might replace him with in 2025. 

Yes, there is a vote of confidence from the team upon being re-signed, but three races into the second season, for most teams, if they were forced to make the same decision, this would at least be difficult. For Williams, it seems to be too easy a decision to make. They don’t have full faith in both their drivers and therefore it feels like - as it has since he started at the team - that Logan Sargeant’s days as part of the F1 grid are numbered.

Another early Sunday UK time race faces us next time, with the Japanese Grand Prix taking a new place as an early season race. The figure-eight track is a driver and fan favourite and with Max Verstappen not finishing, it means there are only four points between Verstappen and Leclerc. It’s too soon to think of a title fight though, with Red Bull normally bouncing back better after an issue.

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