There was an all-to-familiar feel to Logan Sargeant‘s post-race press appearance at the 2023 Italian Grand Prix – the feeling of an opportunity missed but it’s alright, better luck next time, we’ll get there eventually.
However, 14 races into Sargeant‘s Formula 1 career and rumours that he could be replaced by Mick Schumacher just won’t go away, especially as the American remains pointless following an upturn in form for Williams.
He showed positive signs in Zandvoort, reaching Q3 before binning it into the barriers twice in the remainder of the weekend, but seemed to lose at that momentum again a week later at Monza.
“It’s disappointing but to be honest, I gave it everything,” Sargeant told select members of the press, including Total-Motorsport.com, at the Italian GP. “I tried to keep hold of it but realistically the one top with the balance we had today I think I was never gonna be able to hold on til the end.
Though no one asked him about the replacement rumours that team boss James Vowles tried in vain to shut down at Zandvoort, Sargeant can’t have missed the headlines.
Headlines that completely miss the point – that axing Sargeant would mean Williams had wasted a year of their own time, his time and Schumacher‘s, or whoever else is in the frame to replace him.
Williams’ two-year plan for Sargeant
Though not an absolute standout in his junior racing career, Sargeant was certainly no mug either and should’ve beaten Oscar Piastri, Liam Lawson and Theo Pourchaire to the 2020 Formula 3 title had he not been taken out in the final race of the season.
Unable to replicate that success in his third F3 season, Sargeant was signed to Williams and promoted to F2 for what was planned to be a two-year stint before he’d join the F1 grid.
However, the American quickly impressed in his rookie year, not with headline results but through mature consistency. Sargeant just recorded two wins and four podiums on the season but also only finished outside of the top ten once, slipping off the championship podium at the Abu Dhabi finale to three F2 drivers, but still doing enough to earn his F1 Super Licence.
And Williams had seen enough, announcing ahead of the 2022 United States GP that Sargeant would step up to the team if he did earn his licence.
“We had a two-year plan with Logan in F2,” Williams‘ sporting director Sven Smeets told Autosport in January 2023.
“When the season started, very quickly and especially Silverstone and the races after that, we started to see the potential that we maybe didn’t have to do two seasons with him in F2.
“We didn’t say to him ‘you need to win F2 or be second’, it was just his progression, the raw speed he has shown in one lap, and himself maturing.
“It was also how he develops here in the sim sessions, his physical camps, media training. All that was starting to go in a direction that, by summertime, we saw him as becoming one of our contenders.”
So while Sargeant would certainly hope to be doing better so far in 2023, his position on the F1 grid in the first place is well ahead of schedule.
If he finishes this season better prepared for the 2024 F1 season than he would’ve with another year in F2, then it’s been a successful one. And luckily, there’s a driver on the grid right now who’s recently trodden that path.
Yuki Tsunoda shows roadmap for Sargeant success
Even before Sargeant had turned a wheel in anger in F1, the Tsunoda comparison was obvious. Since 2017, only three drivers have been promoted from F2 after just a single full season without winning the championship – Lando Norris, Sargeant and Tsunoda.
Norris was a very different case – he’d won five junior formula championships including European F3 – but Tsunoda and Sargeant both arrived in F1 without sparkling pedigree before challenging for a podium spot in their first season of F2.
The comparison stretches even further – both drivers enjoyed a fantastic debut Grand Prix in Bahrain but struggled for much of the rest of their rookie F1 year.
Up against Gasly – a strikingly teammate comparison to Albon – Tsunoda only beat Gasly once over one lap in 2021. In fact, he was only quicker than him in six sectors in qualifying all season.
Likewise, Sargeant is yet to outqualify his more experienced teammate and trails Albon 38-4 in the sector battle. It’s a similar pattern on Sundays too, but fast-forward two seasons, and Tsunoda‘s an established name on the grid.
He showed signs of progress in 2022 and has now graduated to team leader status at AlphaTauri. The way Tsunoda bounced straight back from his disappointing Hungarian GP against Daniel Ricciardo showed just how far he’s matured despite such an underwhelming debut season.
And Sargeant can show the same growth. He’s already ahead of Williams‘ development schedule, this year was always going to be a free hit for the American but to judge his failure on that would be unbelievably short-sighted.
If the team didn’t think he was up to F1 yet then they should’ve given another year to acclimatise but as soon as Williams promoted him, they took on a duty of care to give him a fair shot, which meant a two-year shot.
James Vowles seems like he understands that, backing Sargeant to the hilt – hopefully the rest of the F1 world can see that sense too.