New Williams team principal James Vowles has admitted that he was wrong to doubt the potential of the team's rookie signing Logan Sargeant.
The 22-year-old from Florida was the selection of Vowles' predecessor Jost Capito, who departed from the team over the winter leaving Vowles' hands tied when it came to driver selection for 2023.
Sargeant was the last full-time driver confirmed for the 2023 season, as he wasn't assured of the necessary superlicence points to make him eligible to compete in F1 until he finished fourth in last year's Formula 2 championship.
There was much talk about how eager Formula 1 was as a whole to recruit an American-born driver to cement the sport's success in the US, perhaps to the point of rushing him into F1 too soon.
But Vowles said his own initial scepticism about the young driver's talent had proved ill-founded, and that he had been quickly won over by the way Sargeant performed in pre-season testing and in the season opener in Bahrain.
"From the first laps of testing, immediately you could see that the pace was there," Vowles acknowledged. "I was a little bit reticent in wondering whether it would take him a little bit of time to get used to it.
"His first Grand Prix, the pressure on your shoulders is enormous and he took it in his stride. He was three-wide through turn 1," Vowles continued. "Normally in your rookie race, that ends up in disaster.
"He just dealt with it, with enormous amounts of maturity. And from then onwards, and I'm sure as you'll see throughout the year, he'll step forward."
Sargeant ended up being top of the rookies in Bahrain, finishing that first race in P12 with AlphaTauri's Nyck de Vries in 14th and Oscar Piastri failing to finish after suffering an electrical issue on lap 14.
Vowles' experience at Mercedes means that he's encountered all three rookies at Brackley.
"[Logan] came to Mercedes as a sim evaluation [driver]," he recalled. "I was interested in looking at him because he had performance, especially when you go back to his Formula 3 performance in an average team.
"He was there with Oscar, and I rate Oscar also highly. At the time in Mercedes we had a good suite of drivers. So that was where my relationship with him ended."
Piastri won the 2020 Formula 3 title, with Sargeant just four points behind at the en dof the season. he nearly moved to single-seater racing in the US but eventually graduated to F2 and became a Williams test driver.
"Williams funded his Formula 2 career," Vowles explained. " Williams funded him because they had deep belief that he was the real deal.
"My reticence came from the fact that prior to [F2] that it's difficult to really judge him," he said. "Now he's been in the car, I now have the ability to look at his data.
"He is here on merit and as a result of Williams investing correctly in him," he concluded emphatically. "So it just shows you that my previous life I was wrong and Williams were right!"
Although Sargeant had a strong first outing, his performance in Saudi Arabia was more befitting a rookie, with mistakes in qualifying and finishing down in 16th place in the race behind both de Vries and Piastri.
"I just struggled to get comfortable from the get-go," he said afterwards. "I just felt a bit disconnected to the car; I really struggled through the high-speed [corners].
"The first 30 laps were relatively decent, and then those last 20 laps, I just struggled to keep the tyre alive and it was just falling off towards the end.
“Nevertheless there were positives to take from the weekend," he insisted. "It’s another great learning day to see why I started to drop at the end there. You’ve got to take the good with the bad.
“I definitely feel more confident ahead of the next race. I showed this weekend that on a difficult track I can be really quick, so I can take that going into Melbourne and hopefully replicate and keep improving."
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