Race Weekend Central

F1 Midweek: Williams, Haas & Painful Irony

Williams Racing’s decision to swap Alex Albon into Logan Sargeant‘s car for the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix didn’t pay off, not enough.

Albon’s crash in the first free practice session damaged his car beyond repair, and Williams, in the middle of an attempted renaissance and in less than stellar shape in terms of operations and finances, was without a third chassis for the weekend. Being as Albon has consistently outperformed his American teammate over the past year, the team made the decision to place Albon in Sargeant’s car for the remainder of the weekend, leaving the Floridian to sit out qualifying and the race.

“This is the hardest moment I can remember in my career and it’s absolutely not easy,” Sargeant said in a statement made shortly after the decision was revealed.

More on that decision in a moment.

First, it merits saying that from a business perspective, the decision made by Williams makes perfect sense. Albon scored an overwhelming majority of the team’s points over the last year, he out-qualified Sargeant at every race in 2023, and is the team’s undisputed number one driver. That being said, this is a sport, not just a business.

Williams took a chance on Sargeant by retaining him beyond the 2023 season, against a healthy choir of informed voices who saw a vast array of reasons for the team to look elsewhere. As teams have developed their driver academies and other tentacles reaching into the junior series, a seat on the F1 grid, already the most coveted in motorsport, has become a more competitive commodity than ever. It’s nothing but honest to say that a rookie who is outperformed by a seasoned teammate will face a sizeable – though admittedly not a majority – wave of observers calling for their seat to be opened up for somebody more competent. This being the age of information and social media, we can confidently say that it has never been more emotionally taxing to be an F1 driver.

Yeah, I know, emotions aren’t real. I invented that trope, believe it or not. Anyway…

But therein lies the problem. What Williams’ decision in Melbourne did was convey to their second driver that his value to the team is such that when his teammate crashes and totals his car unprompted, Sargeant’s own grid position is a fair price to keep said teammate in the race even at Sargeant’s expense.

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I’m not enjoying saying that, I’m not enjoying thinking it. I’m not even saying that the team meant to lend this impression to Sargeant, and I hope sincerely that I’m wrong. However, how would you take it? Interests of the team over the individual, sure, fair. But honestly, how would you take it? Being made to sit out a grand prix, in a season where you’re already seeking to prove your value and belonging to the team, to the benefit of your teammate who bottled their weekend with zero influence from yourself.

The whole thing is foul. Had Albon totalled Sargeant’s car in the race, it would be conceivable that Williams doesn’t make it to Japan at all.

In the end, to ensure things fizzled out in appropriate manner, the team left the weekend without points.

Another team desperate to make itself known once again, however, did leave the weekend with points to their name.

For the first time since the 2022 Austrian Grand Prix, Haas F1 Team took home double points when Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen finished ninth and 10th, respectively. For the team that recently saw the departure of its long-standing Team Principal, and entered the season admitting that its focus in testing would be understanding the fundamentals of their cars interaction with its tires?

This is massive.

At a surface level glance, which is what we’ll have to take, lacking insider information from within either team, the irony is almost comedic. That’s to say nothing of either team, their leadership, their drivers, their execution, and so on. By this point in time, certainly the average F1 fan would like to see more of both Williams and Haas in the points, or at least near the points, with much more frequency.

Williams, having once been a formidable force in the sport from the late 1970s to the early 2000s, carry an instantly familiar name, steeped in history. Since Pastor Maldonado’s surprise win at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix, it’s been a long hard road out of Hell for the Williams outfit. My first real memory of Williams dates back to seventh grade, the 2012 season, when it was revealed that Bruno Senna, nephew of the legendary Ayrton Senna, would drive for the team that year. Many F1 fans have spent their entire time following the sport watching this former juggernaut consistently, desperately chasing a shadow of its former self.

Who is enjoying that? Nobody, far as I can tell.

On the other hand, Haas have always, since their 2016 debut, been searching for a breakout year.

Since the 2016 season, the F1 grid’s lone American outfit – for now, come Hell or high water – have netted a best result of fifth in the Constructors’ Championship in 2018. Otherwise, the results have been eighth (2016, 2017, 2022), ninth (2019, 2020) and 10th out of 10 (2021, 2023). As things stand three races into 2024, Haas’ total of four points places them seventh in the standings, ahead of Williams, Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber, and Alpine. Further, they are only two points behind Visa Cash App RB F1 Team, who sit sixth in the constructors’ race.

Oh, and don’t forget that time the team wound up with perhaps the most unhinged sponsor in the sport’s history. Don’t you just hate when that happens?

This could be a year to remember for Haas, but what state of affairs gives rise to sixth or seventh in points being a year to remember for a team that has been on the grid for the better half of a decade?

Not as strange a state of affairs as a legacy F1 team using Microsoft Excel to account for and manage the constituent parts of their 2024 car. For reference, the 2024 Williams front wing is reported to be made of approximately 400 parts. Just. The. Front. Wing!

How long has this been going on?! I’m certainly not a qualified theologian, nor am I well-versed in engineering to an extent that would earn me a spot in any F1 garage. That said, I’m confident that the fact that Williams has managed to show up to the season opener for the past five years is nothing short of a miracle. And if he can turn this ship around, James Vowles will be a documented miracle worker.

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The simultaneous duality and congruence of these two struggling teams is nothing short of bewildering. Entering 2024, freshly separated from the once-omnipresent Guenther Steiner, it’s safe to say many were expecting Haas to flop around on the ground like a fish out of water as Ayao Komatsu settled into his new role at the helm of the perpetually on-the-back-foot team.

Likewise, Vowles was vocal about the state of disrepair in which he found Williams at the start of 2023. A year later and the details of this state have made the transition from disheartening to nigh on unbelievable. Incomprehensible, perhaps. Made all the worse by the fact that this team has been around more than long enough to know a thing or two about changing with the times. If anything, there’s solace to be found in the knowledge that Williams’ struggles can’t be pinned solely on a lack of effort.

It’s a wild, wacky, spooky, dangerous place at the back of the F1 grid. Only time will tell if Williams and Haas can make it out.

And we haven’t even glanced at Alpine yet!

About the author

Alex is the IndyCar Content Director at Frontstretch, having initially joined as an entry-level contributor in 2021. He also serves as Managing Director of The Asia Cable, a publication focused on the international affairs and politics of the Asia-Pacific region which he co-founded in 2023. With previous experience in China, Japan and Poland, Alex is particularly passionate about the international realm of motorsport and the politics that make the wheels turn - literally - behind the scenes.

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Christopher

“I’m certainly not a qualified theologian…”
Yet another instance (and they are multiple as of late) of a Frontstrech writer using a word out of context. Are they doing this to seem smart, educated, sophisticated? It’s showing the exact opposite. A theologian is someone who studies theology. Theology itself is primarily defined as:
the study of religious faith, practice, and experience especially the study of God and of God’s relation to the world.

Just stop with the 10 dollar words, Frontstretch writers, unless you actually know what they mean.

Last edited 20 days ago by Christopher
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