Why retaining Logan Sargeant was the right move for Williams
Development is not linear.
My path to covering Formula 1 is a long-and winding road, to put it mildly. Following a near decade of practicing law, I underwent a massive career change, starting over in the sports media space with a focus on football, and the quarterback position in particular.
While that is a massive departure from the courtroom, it at least made a modicum of sense. After all, I was — a very long time ago at this point — a college quarterback. It was Division 3 and I was not that good, although I had my moments, but I had a lifetime of playing the position that I could bring to the table.
I’ve never been behind the wheel of an F1 car, and that’s probably for the best.
But years of playing quarterback, of studying the quarterback position, and even coaching young quarterbacks, have led me to some truths about athletic development.
And that phrase above: Development is not linear.
Earlier today, Williams F1 announced that they were bringing Logan Sargeant back for the 2024 season. The second seat at Williams was the one remaining bit of business left for the 2023 campaign, and as the year wound down speculation followed the American rookie driver. It was a subject that followed Sargeant and the team from circuit to circuit, and was a topic every time either the driver, or Team Principal James Vowles, addressed the media.
It was a big topic here at SB Nation as well.
But the team made it official on Friday, inking Sargeant for the 2024 season.
From one writer’s perspective at least, it makes perfect sense.
Because development is not linear.
We often have this idealized view of how people — and even athletes — grow and develop. A nice smooth and upward trendline, showing improvement over time. Whether game-by-game, or season-by-season.
But the reality is much different. There are peaks and valleys, spurts of development often followed by a step back or two. That is true of quarterbacks, as it is true with all young athletes.
The main questions Sargeant needed to answer by the end of the season were these: First, had he grown as a driver and second, did he show room for additional growth over next season?
Some might believe that Sargeant had failed to answer those questions in the affirmative. After all, in his final qualifying session of the 2023 season at Abu Dhabi, Sargeant had both his push laps deleted for exceeding track limits.
A fate he endured at the start of the year, at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
But the team must have seen enough, and as you can see in this video released by the team, Vowles specifically mentioned the idea of “growth” when talking to the young driver:
Congratulations from JV— Williams Racing (@WilliamsRacing) December 1, 2023
It fits, because Sargeant has grown this year, and the exclamation point on his season came during qualifying in Las Vegas. Because heading into the Las Vegas Grand Prix, many believed that the FW45 was going to be strong on the Las Vegas streets, given the number of long straights on that circuit.
Long straights were where the FW45 shined this year, particularly with one-lap pace.
This was a moment for Sargeant to seize. To be on the front foot going into a qualifying session, and make the most of the opportunity.
He did just that, advancing into Q3 for just the second time all season long, before putting his FW45 on the third row (thanks to a rather harsh penalty handed down to Carlos Sainz Jr.).
When he came across the line, Vowles told the driver exactly what he had accomplished.
“Really well done Logan, that’s how you build a weekend up. You were on equal footing, and you performed. Good job,” said Vowles.
It was clear at the time that the qualifying run in Las Vegas was going to be a huge moment for Sargeant, and he delivered.
All year long, Vowles has stressed patience at Williams. He has emphasized the long-term approach at the team, asking to be judged on their success over a period of years, not months. It is almost a refreshing viewpoint in the modern era of sports, where patience is often measured in hours of a season, or characters in a tweet. Patience is sorely lacking around the sporting world, just ask Bryce Young down in Carolina.
But Vowles maintains that patience is what is needed, and that viewpoint was rewarded already with a seventh-place finish from Williams in the Constructors’ Championship, their best finish since finishing fifth back in 2017.
In the football world, we often talk about the “year two” and “year three” leaps from a quarterback. Recent examples of a “year three” leap come from Jalen Hurts, who went from an intriguing NFL starter in his second season, to a Super Bowl quarterback and an MVP candidate in his third season. Josh Allen with the Buffalo Bills is another example.
There are many reasons for this kind of growth in subsequent season, but consistency around the young quarterback, and familiarity for the young quarterback, are certainly among those reasons. Consistency in play callers, in offensive systems, in talent around the position, certainly aid development. Then there is the familiarity aspect. The young quarterback has experienced the process of getting ready for a game over a week, of studying the upcoming opponent, of preparing for a Sunday in the NFL.
That aids the development process.
That is what awaits Sargeant in his second season in F1. Many weeks this year he was seeing a track for the first time, outside of a simulator. In the year ahead what was once unfamiliar will become routine. It is a much more stable environment for growth, and gives him a better chance at duplicating what he did on a Friday night in Las Vegas throughout the entire season.
It remains to be seen just how well Sargeant will develop next season. But bringing him back for 2024 was the right move for Williams, and it fits right in line with the team’s approach: A focus on the long-term, on growth, and on patience.
Development may not be linear. But Sargeant showed moments throughout the season that, if given the right opportunity, he can deliver for Williams.
Now it is up to him, and a the team, to turn those flashes, into something more.