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Benching Sargeant the making of James Vowles

Despite Williams’ lack of spare chassis exposing operational and financial deficiencies, James Vowles has shown that he is more than ready to bring the team up the grid – but it comes at a cost.

Australia Vowles
To news overview © XPBimages

On the face of it, the Australian Grand Prix was a nightmare for Williams. After Alex Albon’s FP1 crash left them a car short at Albert Park, owing to the team’s lack of a spare chassis, James Vowles made the difficult decision to put his lead driver in Logan Sargeant’s FW46 for the remainder of the weekend.

The hope was that by having Albon in Sargeant’s car, the Grove-based outfit would be best placed to score points. That did not transpire, with the 27-year-old only able to reach P11.

Overall, the weekend highlighted the issues facing Williams. Albon’s chassis has been sent back to the UK to be repaired, and the team will not have a spare until the Chinese Grand Prix at the earliest.

However, despite widespread criticism of the “unfair” and “harsh” decision to have Sargeant sit out, the weekend could just be the making of the team – and their team principal.

Vowles has impressed since taking the helm last year with his transparent and public approach to leadership. His management of difficult moments has been lauded and his to-camera pieces for Williams social media are a breath of fresh air.

In the depths of a crisis, Vowles made the difficult decision. The unpopular decision. It would have been easier to leave Sargeant in the car. In handing the sole remaining FW46 to Albon, he proved he has the required guts to make the hardest of calls.

What it means for Sargeant

Whilst it may have temporarily destabilised the team and left a bitter taste in the mouths of Sargeant and his side of the garage, it is undeniable that Albon stood a better chance of scoring points. The fact the former Red Bull driver did not quite achieve that is by the by. But imagine how Vowles would have looked had it paid off.

When tasked with decisions of a similar magnitude in the future, which he will be, there is now little doubt the 44-year-old will struggle to take the path of most resistance when needed; any concerns that he is gun shy have been essentially quashed.

And that can only be a net positive – for both Vowles and the team he runs.

However, to take that step, there had to be a sacrifice, and that was Sargeant.

What occurred at the Australian Grand Prix is a classic case of what is good for the gander not necessarily being what is good for the goose. The American driver now surely faces an uphill battle to rebuild his confidence and his faith in the team.

Being forced to sit out in Melbourne is beginning to look like the start of the slow slide to being replaced at the end of the season. Something most would have predicted anyway.

It’s no surprise to learn that Williams – and Vowles – have more trust in Albon than Sargeant, but for the extent of that disparity to warrant replacing one with the other is telling.

The suggestion that having talked the talk in defence of Sargeant, Vowles is now not walking the walk is perhaps a touch disingenuous. They retained him for 2024 and gave him ample support.

He did not show he had made a significant step in the opening two rounds and an impossible situation has forced the team’s hand early, but in doing so, they may have made replacing him an inevitability.

There is the outside chance this setback will be the making of Sargeant, but if asked if he is better placed now to retain his seat than he was before the weekend, you would have to say no.

As for Vowles, when the dust settles on a torrid weekend in Australia, there will be an acceptance that whilst his actions may well cost Sargeant his F1 career, he has what it takes to drag Williams back up the grid.

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