Those seeking intrigue this Formula 1 season have seen their searches come up empty.
On the track, with eight races remaining matters have largely been settled. Thanks to a record-breaking ten straight victories, Max Verstappen heads to the Singapore Grand Prix well ahead of the field in the Drivers’ Championship. While the Red Bull driver cannot clinch his third straight title at the Singapore Grand Prix this weekend, he can certainly put one hand on the trophy, and add the other at the Japanese Grand Prix the following weekend.
As for Red Bull, they can actually clinch a title of their own this weekend if a few different things break their way. However, in all likelihood, they wrap up a second straight title at Suzuka alongside Verstappen next weekend.
With the lack of intrigue on the track fans, and analysts, turned to speculation off it, starting with the August shutdown. That summer stretch, often the kickoff to the driver “silly season,” offered hope that there would be some shocking moves to discuss and debate.
And yet here we are, well into September, and that front has been quiet as well.
There have been sporadic rumors, such as the ongoing speculation regarding Sergio Pérez and his future with Red Bull, but with Pérez under contract through the 2024 campaign, those stories might be premature. All but four seats are solidified for the 2024 season — the two spots at AlphaTauri, a spot alongside Valtteri Bottas at Alfa Romeo, and the second seat at Williams — and while the intrigue around Red Bull’s junior team gets the bulk of attention, the second seat at Williams is another big story.
Which brings us to Logan Sargeant.
Sargeant made headlines last offseason when he was given a seat alongside Alexander Albon at Williams, becoming the first full-time American on the grid since Alexander Rossi in 2015. In many ways, his appointment to that seat put the hopes of continued F1 growth in America on his shoulders. The sport continues to seek pathways into the American media market, looking to capitalize on the success of the Netflix series Drive to Survive which helped introduce F1 to new fans. New grands prix in Miami and Las Vegas certainly help in that effort, but an American on the grid is another big piece to that puzzle.
However, with eight races remaining this season, the results have not followed for Sargeant. While there have been moments of hope, such as qualifying for the Dutch Grand Prix where he advanced to Q3 for the first time in his F1 career, those have been overshadowed by moments of heartbreak, such as his subsequent crash in Q3 at Zandvoort which saw him start the Grand Prix in tenth place.
As the grid heads to Singapore this week, Sargeant is one of just four drivers yet to secure a single point this F1 season. The other three? Daniel Ricciardo, who only ran in two races before suffering an injury; Liam Lawson, who replaced Ricciardo and has just two races of his own under his belt; and Nyck de Vries, who was sacked midseason and replaced by Ricciardo.
Complicating matters for Sargeant is this notion: As F1 leaves the European part of the schedule behind, the driver himself leaves familiar territory behind in exchange for the unknown. Given his experience prior to F1 — Sargeant moved to Europe at an early age to begin competing in lower-level circuits — he had raced at tracks such as Monza and Zandvoort.
Even worse? Williams has found strength at high-speed tracks such as Monza, given the impressive straight-line speed shown from the FW45. High downforce tracks such as the Marina Bay Circuit, which Sargeant will face for the first time this weekend, do not seem like fertile ground for Williams.
“We needed that, because I don’t think the next few races, we’re not really going to stand a chance until Vegas,” said Albon after his seventh-place finish at Monza.
All of which begs the question: If Sargeant continues his points-less streak will he still hold that seat next to Albon for 2024?
It may come down to how much patience Williams has, and while F1 is not a sport known for patience, Sargeant might have the perfect ally in his corner.
Team Principal James Vowles.
Vowles worked his way through the motorsport ranks, starting in Formula 3 before joining BAR back in 2001. As he worked his way up through the organization BAR underwent numerous changes, becoming Honda Racing, then Brawn GP, and finally its current form.
Vowles was part of the operation that secured eight straight Constructors’ Championships, and by the time he departed Mercedes for his current role, he had risen to the title of Motorsport Strategy Director. But as his former boss Toto Wolff stated, it was time for him to take on a new challenge.
“That next step is something that James deserves,” Wolff said in January to formula1.com. “Within our organization, for him to move up, I would have needed to move aside, and I feel still that there is something left in me, and that I can add a contribution, or that I can contribute.”
Since joining Williams, Vowles has stressed patience and the long-term approach. Even if that means sacrificing results in the present.
“We’re in a position that we can break what we have in existence, and rebuild it from the foundations, ground-up, into a solid mechanism. We have finance, we have investment,” the Williams team principal said ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix. “And we have the willingness and desire to even compromise this year and next as needed and as required in order to make sure that we make the jump back forward of the field. And that’s a tougher decision if you’re racing for fifth, or sixth in the championship. Much easier when you’re Williams.”
“That can’t be done in one year,” said Vowles back in June. “In fact, worse still, if you rush it in one year, we’ll have to undo it in two. That’s why I don’t feel any stress or otherwise, because I’m very confident and happy in my head that what we’re doing will be the right solutions for this organisation long-term.”
However, patience alone will not save Sargeant’s seat for 2024, which is something Vowles has outlined in recent weeks. Speaking with Sky Sports, the Williams boss set forth what Sargeant needs to do down the stretch to keep his spot in the “meritocracy” that is F1.
And it starts with “moving forward.”
“The comments I’ve given him is this, it’s a meritocracy, you’re not here just because we want you to be here, you have to earn your place, this is the pinnacle of motorsport,” said Vowles. “And what I’m asking of you is follow this general guidance, follow this development path, keeping moving forward relative to Alex, and there is a place for you here with your name on it. Before then there are points with your name on it. Some were available at Zandvoort… earn those. It’s how you earn your pathway into Formula 1.”
Vowles also makes it clear that Sargeant is on the right path, at least at the moment. But that growth does need to continue.
“In terms of where we are now, you have to be working in the way of the drivers and understanding where they are,” added the Williams boss. “Alex is here for the long term, I can tell you that already. In terms of where Logan is, he is on the right path to developing, he has to just keep stepping it up race on race.”
For his part, Sargeant knows what is expected of him, and believes that points are within reach. Speaking with RaceFans ahead of the Italian Grand Prix, the driver set forth just how tough F1 is, and how close he is to breaking through.
“I think they’ll come for sure,” said Sargeant. “I just need to keep focusing on myself, keep working on myself. Just take it step by step and not force it too much.
“I think people forget, to be in the top 10 and finish inside the top 10 in an F1 race no matter what the circumstances are is tough,” continued the driver to RaceFans. “With how good everyone is out there and where we’re currently at with the car as well, it’s not a given that every single weekend we have the package to score points with. That makes it difficult, but I think the goal is to take Alex as a benchmark, learn from him, see what he’s doing, and honestly try to just get to that level.”
As for whether he believes that second seat is his for 2024, the driver told RaceFans that his focus is on what is happening on the track, not away from it.
“I’m just worried about focusing on myself at the moment – I don’t want to put any energy into something that’s honestly not going to help me when I get on track,” said Sargeant to RaceFans. “It’s just about being physically, mentally prepared for these races. Mentally being able to bounce back from what was a tough end of last weekend and come into this one fresh and ready to go.”
But the driver believes his progress throughout the season shows he is on that pathway Vowles is looking for.
“I’m definitely working hard on and off the track to make something happen,” said Sargeant. “From my side, I’ve seen a lot of good throughout the European leg of the season – a lot of progress. I think if I clean things up, I won’t be far from where I need to be. So we’ll see.”