Will Williams suffer an Australian hangover?

sWe are three races into the Formula 1 season.

While much remains the same from 2024 — Red Bull is leading the Constructors’ Championship and Max Verstappen is atop the Drivers’ standings — recent events have shaken the field up a bit. Mercedes is floundering, McLaren is strong, and Ferrari has certainly closed the gap to Red Bull.

Then there is a fascinating fight shaping up in the midfield, one that has Visa Cash App RB F1 Team in front at the moment thanks to a strong drive from Yuki Tsunoda in the Australian Grand Prix.

With so much on the line, and a short break until the Japanese Grand Prix, this is a good time to take stock of where each team stands at the moment. But rather than a simple review, we’ll look at the biggest question facing each team right now.

Yesterday we took a look at Alpine, asking how quickly progress will come for a team desperately needing a step forward. We also asked whether Sauber can fix a pit stop issue that has plagued them in each of the season’s first three races.

We now turn to Williams. A surprising seventh-place finish in the Constructors’ Championship a season ago led to high hopes entering 2024. But the team has yet to open their account this season, and are coming off one of the more difficult weekends in recent F1 history.

Which leads us to the biggest question they face going forward.

Williams: Will there be a fallout from the Australian Grand Prix?

When dawn broke last Saturday in Melbourne, Williams Team Principal James Vowles was in an impossible position.

Alexander Albon suffered a hard shunt in Friday’s first practice session, running wide at Turn 6 and hitting both barriers, and was unable to participate in FP2 as the team worked feverishly to repair the damage. In fact, the team violated curfew, doing everything possible to get his FW46 ready for Saturday’s FP3 as well as qualifying.

Ultimately, the damage to Albon’s chassis was too much.

Now most race weekends, this would not be a problem. The team would drop in a backup chassis, and while Albon might face a penalty if race officials determined it was a “third car,” the team would forge ahead with both Albon and Logan Sargeant on Saturday.

However, because of delays the team encountered in developing the FW46, they arrived at Melbourne — as they did in the prior two races — without a third chassis. That left Vowles with one car, and two drivers.

Would he pin his hopes on Sargeant? After all, the second-year driver did not put his car in the barrier (although he endured a spin of his own in practice Friday) and he was able to run in FP2.

Or would he rely on Albon and bump Sargeant from his own car? Albon is the more experienced driver, and scored all but one of the team’s points a season ago.

Vowles rode with Albon, and the strategy worked in qualifying at least. Albon advanced to Q2 and started the Australian Grand Prix in P12, in the range to fight for points.

Sunday, however, was a different story. Even with retirements from Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, and George Russell, Albon finished outside the points in P11. “With three of the top teams retiring, it’s frustrating that we couldn’t capitalise on this and our rivals did, but it shows our pace wasn’t quick enough to still be sitting outside the points,” said Albon in the team’s post-race report.

Now, where do they go from here, and will what happened in Melbourne linger into the rest of the season?

We can start with Sargeant, who called the decision to sideline him the hardest moment of his racing career. As an athlete it is never easy to be given such news, but by all reports Sargeant handled the news graciously and looked to help the team any way he could. But this is a pivotal season for the second-year driver. The decision to bring him back for another year was questioned at the time, and Sargeant is truly driving for his F1 future.

How does he respond?

For the team, they need to rectify what got them in this position to begin with. As Vowles stated on Saturday, it is “…unacceptable in modern day Formula 1 not to have a spare chassis, but it is a reflection of how behind we were in the winter period and an illustration of why we need to go through significant change in order to get ourselves in a better position for the future.”

There is a path forward where this turns into a positive for the team, starting with Sargeant. Sometimes as an athlete when you are benched — speaking from personal experience here — it gives you a chance to step back and see things from a different perspective. Sargeant was given a chance to be on the other side of the wall in Melbourne for qualifying and the race itself, to see what the team deals with, and faces, as he is on the track.

That can pay dividends for a young athlete. While F1 drivers and NFL quarterbacks rely on different skill-sets, there is some crossover in how quickly things happen around them, and how they have to process information and make critical decisions almost instantly. Sometimes for young quarterbacks, a chance to sit down and watch from the sidelines — whether due to a benching or an injury — gives them a chance to see things from a different perspective, and be better suited when they return to action.

Take Josh Allen. During his rookie season in 2018 he played in the team’s first six games, appearing midway through the season opener and then starting the next five.

He missed time after those six starts due to injury, but when he came back and started the final six games of the year, he showed improvement both statistically, and in terms of his execution.

In a “best case scenario” for Williams, the time on the other side of the wall for Sargeant gives him a chance to turn the hardest moment of his career, into a net positive.

Whether that indeed plays out remains to be seen, but it would be a very positive answer to the biggest question facing the team right now.

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