The American rookie, Sargeant, has been grappling with a sequence of damaging mishaps following the summer recess, kicking off with a spin in Zandvoort. During his qualification lap at the Japanese Grand Prix, the neophyte ran out wide while correcting oversteer exiting the final bend. He then lost control while on the grass, resulting in a violent collision to the boundaries of the track with both front and rear parts of his racing car.
Williams‘ engineers had to perform an extensive repair work, necessitating the use of a backup chassis. Consequently, Sargeant was pushed to kick off the race from the pit lane, burdened with a 10-second time penalty for deploying the third car. Sargeant’s run of misfortune continued into the race when he clashed with Valtteri Bottas from Alfa Romeo at the hairpin turn. The collision led to race-ending damage for both competitors.
Prior to Sunday’s race, Dave Robson, the head of vehicle performance for Williams, claimed that the spotlight placed on Sargeant’s accident-riddled outings was shadowing what was a gradual improvement in form. According to Robson, Sargeant was inching closer to matching the timings of his teammate Alex Albon during the practice session at Suzuka.
In a conversation with F1 Initiative, Robson stated, “I guess inevitably, they catch the headlines, don’t they?” He further added that “It has kind of masked his steady performance and this weekend was actually going really well. But yeah, I think it is fair that the crashes since Zandvoort have masked what otherwise has clearly been some steady improvement.”
Robson pointed out that if the series of crashes continues, there could be potential setbacks to the specification of Sargeant’s vehicle as the team has already delayed the rolling out of its new front wing. He explained, “To some extent, you end up having to drop back on specs, because for all of the long lead items and then having to ship them around the world, it’s already too late to make more new ones, really. Even if you had the money and the time to do it.”
Regarding the potential impact of the extra components required by Sargeant on the development budget of Williams for 2024, Robson responded, “It probably won’t affect next year too much, because I think we’ve got enough parts.” He mentioned that the incident wouldn’t cause substantial concern, although it would require more effort and planning, from determining the quantity of parts to be transported and their destination to their subsequent return to the UK. He concluded by saying, “We’ll need to get that chassis repaired, which will consume a little bit of time at the factory. But otherwise, we’ve got enough bits around this that we can carry on.”