Logan Sargeant’s run of poor form continued at the Japanese Grand Prix, further denting his chances of being retained for next season.
The American rookie was already facing scrutiny for the series of crashes he’s had recently, including one during the Singapore Grand Prix one week prior that saw him destroy his front wing.
A strong performance was needed, one that would lift his spirits and place him in a strong state of mind heading into the final handful of races this year.
Suzuka is hailed as a favourite track by many drivers, not just because of its series of complex corners, but also for the the risk versus reward factor that exists with every turn of the wheel.
For Sargeant, he risked too much and was punished for pushing too hard during qualifying. At the final corner, he was too greedy on the throttle which placed him out of shape and onto the grass. A collision with the barriers followed, to the bitter disappointment of the Williams team.
“At the end of the day I'm not trying to put in a wall, so there's not a lot I can say other than I'm doing my best - but I keep crossing the line,” Sargeant told media including RacingNews365 after the crash.
"I’d say the tricky part is just knowing I have the pace but these little mistakes are obviously causing issues. It’s just been tricky with the tailwind combined with the rear overheating and I just wasn't patient enough with it. There’s no reason I should be doing that.”
Things didn’t get any better for the American driver in the race as he collided with Valtteri Bottas early on at the hairpin, eliminating both from the Grand Prix.
At the start of the season, Sargeant’s performance relative to his more experienced team-mate Alexander Albon was praised but at a stage where you would expect a driver to be making tangible improvements, the increase in speed has all too often been married with incident.
Only a few weeks ago, this author made the case for Sargeant and why “first-year drivers must now, more than ever, be considered long-term investments” due to the lack of preparation they have in F1 machinery before tackling their rookie campaigns.
But that dynamic has now changed.
In the previous piece that offered a defence to Sargeant, it was pointed out that there is “always someone viable waiting in the wings to snap the drive of an underperformer”.
AlphaTauri announced that Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo would form its line-up for 2024 despite Liam Lawson’s impressive stint as a substitute for the injured Ricciardo at the last four rounds.
Lawson, as it stands, will carry out reserve driver duties once again next year, a disappointing return for his solid performances at the wheel of the AT04.
But the New Zealander has shown more promise in four races than Sargeant has done all season, making him an intriguing option for Williams. The circumstances around a potential deal would be complicated, given Red Bull will be unlikely to sever their ties with him as they look towards a drive for 2025.
Last year’s Formula 2 champion Felipe Drugovich is also gunning for a seat as he carries out Aston Martin’s reserve duties. The Brazilian would become the first F2 [formerly GP2] champion since 2013 to fail to reach F1 if he doesn’t secure a contract.
Williams is his last chance to get onto the grid next year or otherwise, it seems that he will miss that slot before other worthy juniors come along and shuffle him down the order of suitors.
In making a decision, one advantage that the Grove-based squad has is time - with all other 19 seats on the grid set, it can ensure it seeks out the most flattering option without worrying about it being scooped up elsewhere.
Williams wants to take pride in its driver development programme and reap the rewards of the investment it places in juniors - a point that could make dropping Sargeant more difficult as it looks to make the situation work.
The team is also focused on progressing forward following years at the root of the standings and another interruption to the driver line-up may cause further instability.
But how much longer can Williams be willing to hold out for Sargeant as he tallies up the team’s damage bill? There is a hit being taken on development as more and more spare parts are needed to get through the current campaign.
With only a handful of race weekends remaining in the season, Sargeant must temper his improved speed with few mistakes.