'Good luck, you're an F1 driver': Do rookies deserve more time?


Nyck de Vries' F1 career was cut short and Logan Sargeant may follow suit after struggling in his rookie campaign. But, as Tony Dodgins writes, should F1 rookies be given more time to evolve into the great drivers of tomorrow?

Logan Sargeant Nyck de Vries

Nyck de Vries and Logan Sargeant each faced serious challenges in their first F1 season

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Formula 1 is not a finishing school the old cliché goes, you need drivers who can perform from the off.

But there’s no denying that modern day F1 is tough for a rookie. Witness Nyck de Vries losing his AlphaTauri seat and now the very public pressure that Logan Sargeant is under to keep hold of his Williams drive for 2024.

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I’m well aware that results trump sentiment at Red Bull but was still taken aback when De Vries was shown the door before he’d even had half a season. I guess you need to be seen as a candidate for the senior team and that’s not an opinion Helmut Marko held about the Dutchman.

AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost admitted: “At the start of the year Nyck didn’t know Melbourne, nor Saudi Arabia, nor Miami, and in Baku [where he crashed] we had a sprint race, which meant that after FP1 it was straight into qualifying. For a young driver new to F1, it’s really difficult. And if a car is not so good, it’s even more complicated.

“But, I expected better performances in Austria and Silverstone because Nyck knew both quite well. The performance didn’t come and we decided to change him. Thinking ahead to the second half too, he doesn’t know Singapore, Japan, Mexico, Austin and Qatar, which wouldn’t have made it any easier.”

Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri

Nyck de Vries was made to pack his bags at AlphaTauri – a premature decision?

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The thinking was that Daniel Ricciardo was an experienced driver who could explore the car’s deficiencies, but Zandvoort put paid to that. Liam Lawson now has his chance and certainly impressed at Monza.

Over at Williams, new team principal James Vowles, formerly the Mercedes chief strategist of course, is used to handling data and dealing in numbers. Which does make you worry a bit for Sargeant. Across De Vries’ 10 races at AlphaTauri, a 12th place at Monaco was his best result and he only made Q2 once. He did, however, manage to out-qualify Yuki Tsunoda a couple of times and his average deficit for one-lap pace was just a couple of tenths.

Sargeant, meanwhile, has been whitewashed in qualifying by Alex Albon and the average one-lap pace deficit to the Anglo-Thai is just over half a second, the biggest delta on the grid.

Logan Sargeant 2023

Logan Sargeant’s Williams seat is under pressure are a mediocre start to his rookie campaign

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In F1 there’s long been a perception that the real aces come straight in and perform, their natural talent obvious. Lewis Hamilton is the best example but there are others. At Williams, Damon Hill won three races in his first full season in ’93, alongside championship-winning team mate Alain Prost. And Jacques Villeneuve came straight from IndyCars and pushed Hill all the way to the ’96 title.

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‘De Vries needed more than 10 GPs before being cast aside’

'De Vries needed more than 10 GPs before being cast aside'

F1 once again proved that it's tougher than most sports when Nyck de Vries was dropped by AlphaTauri mid-season. It was premature, says Matt Bishop, who points out that even the greats spend most of their career losing

By Matt Bishop

But such cases are few and far between and circumstances were very different. All three came into F1 in the best car. Okay, Lewis had Ferrari to contend with in ’07 but both Damon and Jacques effectively had only each other to beat in ‘96. Plus, testing was more or less unlimited. Hamilton did almost 10,000kms prior to his first GP; Hill had all those ’92 Williams active ride testing miles. Simulators may have developed out of sight, but there’s no substitute for proper seat time.

Vowles recently spelled out what Sargeant has to do to keep his place.

“Formula 1 is the pinnacle,” he said. “It’s a meritocracy. Logan has to keep developing and moving forward. It needs improvements in consistency and the gap to Alex needs to remain the same and shrink over time.”

Monaco 2023 F1

Logan Sargeant has shown promise, but perhaps not enough so far to warrant a seat at Williams for 2024

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Vowles is a pragmatist though, and echoes Tost on how little preparation Sargeant had when, in reality, he would probably have benefited from another year in F2.

“We’ve put Logan in a situation where he came straight out of F2, had a day and a half of testing… and it’s ‘Good luck, you’re an F1 driver!’ When I reflect, this is probably more difficult than any other year I’ve been in the sport for throwing someone in at the deep end and allowing them the time to catch-up.

“We didn’t do any running in previous Williams cars. His time here is his time here. There’s elements where he keeps growing and finding performance and improvements, and performance under pressure. That’s what we’re looking for. The rate of learning has to increase now. He’s aware of all of that, and I think he has a huge maturity beyond his years. Our job is to support him on his journey rather than punish him.”

Logan Sargeant pulls out his earplugs after the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Sargeant is currently 21 points behind his team-mate in the drivers’ standings


You hear that about the gap to Albon needing to shrink, Logan’s radio messages betray how much he wants it, and you find yourself rooting for him.

The Monza Q2 times were: Albon, 1 min 21.27sec; Sargeant, 1min 21.94sec. A margin of 0.67s, slightly bigger than average. Thumbs down? It wasn’t the full story. Accidents at Zandvoort meant that he didn’t have the optimal front wing at Monza and was struggling with an oversteery balance. At Parabolica (Alboreto these days) in qualifying he went in a bit too hot, losing time. The anguished “Aaargh!” over the radio said it all.

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On Sunday, over a race distance, an awry balance hurt him even more. Still, he drove hard and that first F1 point was tantalisingly close before a lack of rear end grip left him easy prey for Valtteri Bottas in the closing lap, a time penalty for contact at the second chicane wile resisting the Alfa dropping him from 11th to 13th.

In Williams yardstick Albon, Sargeant faces a talented driver, with experience, performing at the top of his game. When he made it to Q3 for the first time at Zandvoort, he was hailed as the first American to start a GP in the top 10 for 30 years. Probably best not to tell him that the previous one, Michael Andretti, was sacked before the end of the year! Michael was a talent, too. Problem was, his rookie season McLaren team-mate happened to be Ayrton Senna… You can call that bad luck. Or bad judgment!

Go back a bit further and you find another North American rookie who only managed to out-qualify his Ferrari team mate twice in his first 13 races and, on average, was slightly further behind than De Vries was behind Tsunoda. Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that Yuki Tsunoda is Carlos Reutemann! But Ferrari gave him another chance. And was pleased it did. His name? Gilles Villeneuve. He became Enzo Ferrari’s favourite driver and thrilled fans the world over. Sargeant might not be Gilles, but do you really want to throw away all the learning and start over when there’s no testing?