Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturdays: Williams Hedges Future For Short-Term Gain

After Alexander Albon suffered a terrible wreck in the first practice session of the Australian Grand Prix weekend, Williams had a difficult decision to make.

The team had only two chassis with them, and Albon had just all but destroyed one of them. The result meant that there could only be one car for the rest of the weekend.

Had it been Logan Sargeant, it would have been a fairly easy decision. But Albon is the team’s star driver scoring 26 of the team’s 27 points last year.

From a business perspective, the decision was elementary. Sargeant could drive well and finish 12th-14th in the race, a good result for him. But Albon, in that scenario, probably finishes in points, in a year where points are looking extremely hard to come by.

But from a race team management perspective, it was a very bitter pill to swallow. Team principal James Vowles has been adamant that this has been his toughest decision as the head of the team so far.

It should be obvious, however, that he made the wrong decision.

Albon wrecked out of practice. Albon made the mistake, and he should pay the price.

What this will do long term is damage Sargeant’s confidence. Perhaps the last thing the team should be doing after having already committed to another season’s worth of investment in the American driver. Sugarcoat it all you like, but the team basically just sat him down and told him they thought he would be worse than a guy who just crashed out of the weekend.

And now, Sargeant has to prepare for 21 more weekends with this team that has no faith in him. I personally argued last year that Sargeant hadn’t proven worthy of another season, especially after the strong debuts of Liam Lawson and Oscar Piastri last year. But now that Williams has committed, they can’t just scurry off on it.

What’s more, there is still a race to happen. Notice how the headline above reads? There is still a big old question mark next to “short-term gain.” Heck, Albon could wreck again and embarrass himself and the team even further.

There was a tremendous amount of social media reaction. Many American fans pointed out the ridiculousness of this fiasco coming less than two months after FOM openly stated that Andretti Global would not bring any value to the grid.

It’s not really a warranted comparison, but at the same time, F1 brought it onto themselves for making the ridiculous claim that Andretti (or any 11th team without a new OEM) wouldn’t bring any value to the grid.

There’s been a lot of confusion about why Williams doesn’t have a spare at the third race of the season. This is a fair point, but one that could be explained in an interview with Vowles earlier this week with The Race.

Williams’ use of a big Microsoft Excel file to track parts and components to build F1 race cars sounds like a giant punchline. Streamlining and creating a custom system for parts management had to have been a gigantic undertaking, one that will pay dividends in the future but has left the Williams team with its pants down for now.

In other news, NASCAR is making its now annual trip to Austin, Texas, to race on the Circuit of the Americas. COTA is the only FIA Grade One layout that NASCAR currently visits, and of course, is the home of the American Grand Prix in the fall.

As is now customary in NASCAR, a number of big name international drivers will be making cameo appearances throughout the three races there this week. Two of them have F1 experience and pretty substantial experience at that.

Kamui Kobayashi is now more known as a WEC champion and the team principal at Toyota Gazoo Racing. But once upon a time, in his younger days, he competed in F1.

After being left to fend for himself after Toyota suddenly exited the series in 2009, Kobayashi enjoyed a few solid years with Sauber. Kobayashi, the most accomplished Japanese driver in F1 history, was known for daring overtakes and his performance in high-pressure situations.

His lone podium in F1 came at the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix, in which he drove as high as second on the start before successfully holding off Jenson Button in the second half of the race to capture third.

Kobayashi raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course last year but struggled to learn the race car and didn’t have a caution to “reset” things outside of one very early on in the race. It should be a little easier for him this weekend.

As Kobayashi prepares for the Cup race, Daniil Kvyat will race in the Xfinity race after qualifying 22nd. Kvyat is a very aggressive driver whose style should fit well in the world of NASCAR.

In his first stint in F1, Kvyat was a little too aggressive, earning the infamous nickname of “the Torpedo” from Sebastian Vettel after the Russian forced the German into his teammate at the very start of the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix.

After taking a one-year cooldown in 2018, Kvyat rejoined the Red Bull family on the junior team and performed much more effectively. He scored Toro Russo’s first podium in 11 years at the 2019 German Grand Prix and was very competitive with Albon in the first half of the year as the young driver’s teammate.

After being dropped from Red Bull again after 2020 in favor of Yuki Tsunoda and a year working with Alpine as a reserve driver, that was it for his F1 career. He’s since taken up endurance racing and did a few NASCAR races in 2022. This will be his first start at COTA since his F1 career ended.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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