In a parallel universe, Colton Herta is toiling fruitlessly in Formula 1’s lower midfield with AlphaTauri, achieving results that make the frustrating start to his 2023 IndyCar campaign in this world seem encouraging. That would have led to intense scrutiny, some ill-founded opining about the capacity of IndyCar drivers to make the leap to grand prix racing, and soul-searching about whether taking on F1 at all was a good idea. Instead, it’s Nyck de Vries who is lumbered with iffy machinery and struggling to build on his promising one-off debut with Williams last year.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no interest for fans of American drivers. Logan Sargeant’s numbers are unimpressive on paper, but he’s made a quietly impressive start to his grand prix career. He doesn’t have the best of machinery, but the Williams FW45 has at least shown the pace to threaten points finishes on merit. While he’s yet to escape Q1 in qualifying or finish a race higher than 12th, the 22-year-old has looked better than the results suggest.
Rookies are under intense pressure when they graduate to F1. Sargeant has more reason than most for unease given he was given the seat by the previous management regime, headed by Jost Capito. Even then, it was only as a result of the contractual shenanigans triggered by Fernando Alonso signing for Aston Martin and Oscar Piastri signing for McLaren, given Alpine originally planned to place Piastri at Williams for a year or two. To say Sargeant earned the seat by default is unfair, but he did require a slice of luck for the opportunity to open up.
Fortunately, new Williams team principal James Vowles was already familiar with Sargeant. While best known for his tenure as Mercedes strategy chief, Vowles had a wider role within his previous team that included overseeing its young driver program. He first crossed paths with his current driver when Sargeant was evaluated in the simulator. Mercedes passed on him, less because Sargeant wasn’t seen as a good prospect and more because his age didn’t slot well into the Mercedes junior portfolio. As Vowles has subsequently explained, “we already had a good suite of drivers”, although he has also suggested that “I was wrong and Williams were right” in recruiting Sargeant. Of course, had Sargeant stood out as a potential megastar Mercedes surely would have snapped him up, but he was nonetheless regarded as a driver with promise.
Vowles has also been at pains to stress that Sargeant is at Williams on merit. The team funded him in F2 last year and his paying him a healthy salary to race for it in 2023. Thanks to billionaire Harry Sargeant III being Sargeant’s uncle, he’s been pegged by many as a pay driver, but that isn’t the case. Had it been so, he certainly wouldn’t have raced for the unfancied Charouz team in F3 in 2021. But for Williams picking him up, Sargeant would have been lost to single-seaters by now.
What matters for Williams is performance, and while Sargeant’s junior single-seater career wasn’t stellar in terms of titles, he has won plenty of races at F4, F3 and F2 level. That followed an outstanding karting career, so he came into 2023 as a driver who wasn’t a sure thing in F1, but who did have genuine potential.
He’s already come a long way since Williams signed him last October. As Williams head of vehicle performance Dave Robson noted, Sargeant has been on steep learning curve since even before he was given the race drive. But diligent preparation over the winter meant he arrived for pre-season testing ready to go.
“When we first met him, way back in Miami last year, I think he was quite daunted by the whole thing,” said Robson. “But [that changed] over the course of the P1 sessions, the work in the factory and in the simulator and getting to know everyone the winter. We’d spend all the time just talking to him about things – which is not always an easy way to spend a few hours with engineers, trying to bore a racing driver – but to be fair to him, he listened, he took it all in. It means he got experience of talking to people and understanding the way we look at things. By the time we arrived in Bahrain for the test, there was no problem at all, he was fully into it.”
Probably the most eye-catching moment of Sargeant’s season so far is also the low point, rear-ending De Vries at the final standing restart in Australia after being caught out by cold tires and brakes. While he escaped a penalty for the blunder, he was apologetic. Fortunately, his other two race outings have been clean, with the high point a superb first lap in Bahrain where he showed real confidence and incisiveness.
Tire management is an area where he still needs to improve, but that’s standard for rookie drivers. While he’s familiar with the generic characteristics of Pirelli rubber from F3 and F2, the depth of detail in tire understanding in F1 is enormous and it is always a steep learning curve for newcomers. He also struggled badly with graining on the medium rubber in Australia, although he was far from alone on that score.
Qualifying has shown unfulfilled glimpses of Sargeant’s speed. In Bahrain, he set a time good enough for Q2 but didn’t advance because McLaren driver Lando Norris had set the same laptime but posted it earlier. That was despite being caught out by the changing wind conditions and making an error that cost him time.
For the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Sargeant’s first Q1 lap time was good enough for a Q2 place. Unfortunately, a moment of inattentiveness resulted in him drifting onto the painted Qatar Airways logo separating the main straight from the pit entry and he was disallowed. He didn’t respond well to that, making a mistake on the push lap of his second run then going off at the first corner of the push lap on his unexpected third run. He also tagged the wall at the end of that incident, leaving him stranded trackside without a time set at the end of a Q1 session where he looked to have the edge on teammate Albon.
“One small mistake by a few inches not even at the last corner but pit entry and then in the space of few minutes spiraled into a little bit of an unfortunate session,” said Robson of Sargeant’s session. “It’s very easy for that to happen and it’s experience you need to keep yourself a little bit calmer in that situation and make the following chances work. That is what it is to be a rookie, when you’re playing with such fine margins.”
In Australia, Sargeant lacked the searing speed of Albon but did have the pace to have reached Q2. But for a moment at the penultimate corner where the rear stepped out, he would have done. There is a clear theme here of having pace but failing to piece it all together in qualifying thanks to errors that needs to be ironed out, but given he’s just three races into his F1 career, that’s all part of the process a newcomer must go through. And had he produced the speed he displayed when it mattered in qualifying for one of the first three races, he might well have converted it into a points finish.
He’s still getting used to how to work with the team to get the car balance he wants and he has been a little surprised by struggles in the high-speed corners relative to Albon given that’s historically been a strength for Sargeant. Australia was a good example of that, where he lost time consistently to Albon in the fast Turn 9/10 sweep. But that should come with time.
The unscheduled break in the season, the result of the cancellation of the Chinese Grand Prix, means Sargeant is in a period where he can reflect, re-evaluate and head to Baku in the hope of putting together a more complete weekend. Even after jumping out of the car in Australia, he already had in mind what he needs to achieve, especially with the sprint format meaning he has just one practice session before the serious stuff begins.
“I feel quite fortunate that I’ve been to Baku before [in Formula 2 last year], which makes things a little easier, but it’s going to be a challenge,” said Sargeant. “It’s going to be about stepping up to the plate a little bit quicker, taking it one step at a time.”
Sargeant’s has at least shown that he has the pace to make something of himself in F1. He may lack the profile of Herta, and understandably so given his career prior to 2023 was restricted to the junior categories, but he’s showing signs of being able to make a name for himself in F1. Provided, that is, he can build on this good, if frustrating, start.