Williams driver swap decision sets dangerous F1 precedent

After crashing in FP1 in Australia, Alex Albon was given Logan Sargeant's Williams chassis leaving the American to sit out the race

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Logan Sargeant was no doubt disheartened when he learned that he had to surrender his Williams car to his teammate, Alex Albon, after he crashed out of Free Practice 1 and here is why the call could set a dangerous rule going forwards in the sport…

The Thai-British driver’s crash at Turn 7 left his car with irreparable damage as the team could not ship the extra parts needed to fix it across the world in time, meaning that they were essentially trying to run through the weekend with no margin for error for the drivers anyway.

But instead of forcing the ex-Red Bull man to sit out the remaining sessions looking at the TV screens and thinking about what he’s done, Sargeant will actually be punished for… keeping it on track…

“While Logan should not have to suffer from a mistake that he did not make,” James Vowles, team principal said in an official statement. “Every race counts when the midfield is tighter than ever, so we have made the call based on our best potential to score points this weekend.

“This decision was not made lightly, and we cannot thank Logan enough for his graceful acceptance, demonstrating his dedication to the team; he is a true team player. This will prove a tough weekend for Williams, and this situation is not one that we will put ourselves in again.”

Why the Williams situation is dangerous for F1

But it actually sets a dangerous ruling for any future Formula 1 title fights, with the lack of action from the FIA to block the call allowing for a significant loophole going forwards.

Lets travel back to the 2021 season to the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix as Max Verstappen sets out on his final qualifying run of the day at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

In a desperate bid to beat Lewis Hamilton to win his first F1 crown, he leaves zero time on the table as he rubs his wheels against the barriers through every corner of the lap.

But in the final corner, the Dutchman gets a bit too greedy and locks his tyres setting him on a one way trip with destiny to the concrete barriers.

Sergio Perez of Red Bull Racing leads Charles Leclerc of Ferrari during 2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Sergio Perez of Red Bull Racing leads Charles Leclerc of Ferrari during 2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

As he thunders into the wall, his gearbox and suspension are finished and it seems as though he will not be able to turn it around in time for the race on Sunday due to the location being relatively inaccessible.

But never mind! He can just take Sergio Perez‘s car instead. The Mexican graciously steps aside to enjoy some vodka martinis as he watches the race instead whilst Verstappen simply starts from third anyway.

By doing this, he escapes any punishment for his mistake. He keeps an advantage heading into the title race and eventually wins the crown by eight points when he should have taken a five-place grid drop for an extra gearbox.

Obviously that is a drastic scenario based on historical events, but it does outline the problem with what Williams have been able to do and how teams can begin to weaponize the loophole for lead drivers in tight battles.

It essentially becomes a “get out of jail free” card for anyone with a teammate who isn’t actually fighting for anything, either within the race weekend or season.

The impact on the second driver

It is also a terrible message to the second driver for situations like Williams. The team essentially looked Sargeant in the eye and told him he isn’t good enough to deliver for them and he described being told to step aside as a tough thing to do.

It also raises the question of why did they even bother to keep him for 2024 if they don’t think he can score points? Particularly because Williams did have other options out there such as Felipe Drugovich.

“This is the hardest moment I can remember in my career,” Sargeant said in a press release. “And it’s absolutely not easy.

“I am however completely here for the team and will continue to contribute in any way that I can this weekend to maximise what we can do.”

Brandon Sutton
Brandon is an alumni of an NCTJ and BJTC Liverpool John Moores University course, and has been with Total-Motorsport.com for over a year now. He enjoys covering all forms of motorsport but particularly focuses on Formula 1, and Brandon loves to debate various topics of the sport and other interests, especially if that topic doesn't have an open/shut answer such as the GOAT debate.
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