Sargeant “generally happy” with his qualifying performance in F1 Japanese GP after “awkward” practice shunt

Photo Credits: Williams Racing
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The American driver will start the race from 19th on the grid, only ahead of the struggling Sauber of Zhou Guanyu – but he was encouraged by what he described as a “good turnaround” after limited practice running and a big set-up change ahead of qualifying in Suzuka.

After missing the race last time out in Australia, as the Williams team gave his chassis to team-mate Alex Albon after the Thai’s huge FP1 crash caused severe damage, this time it was Sargeant himself who had a shunt in the opening practice session, dipping a wheel in the grass at the exit of the fast turn seven at Suzuka and losing control of his FW46, going straight into the outside wall.

Whilst the damage wasn’t as brutal as in Albon’s Melbourne hit, it still meant the American did not take part in FP2 and had to adapt to the conditions and regain his confidence in the sole practice session ahead of the all-important qualifying session.

Speaking to selected media after qualifying in Suzuka, Sargeant explained how his “awkward” FP1 crash didn’t affect him too much going into Saturday:

“It was an awkward mistake, it wasn’t one from overpushing, it was just one from not completely realising where I was putting the car on track. Of course something to learn from, something to not let happen again. I feel like I’ve still gone on with it today and didn’t let it affect me.”

And despite a lowly 19th grid slot, Sargeant was adamant that there was a “good turnaround” in his side of the Williams garage ahead of Q1 – and lamented the fact that only 0.15s separated him from a spot in the second part of qualifying:

“I needed to pick myself up, have a good turnaround after [Friday]. Never easy coming off of a crash like that and straight into FP3.

“Limited laps, wasn’t super comfortable this morning. It felt like we had a good turnaround in qualifying. I think the car was in a good place.

“A tenth-and-a-half from Q2, it’s so small and so fine the margins to be standing here P19. But generally happy with the way I drove, the way I was able to pick myself up. Bit of a journey into the unknown tomorrow, so we’ll have to wait and see.

“I think what I’m always looking for is to get the most out of the car. Of course, P19 is disappointing but when you see the gaps, I have to be relatively happy with the way I’ve turned around from P3 to quali.

“I had a little mistake in turn 11 on my lap which probably wouldn’t have got me to Q2 but for sure P16 was on the table. Still little bits I can do better but generally a pretty well driven quali for myself.”

He also hinted at some significant set-up changes the team made ahead of qualifying, which complicated matters even more – but he admits the team “more or less maximized” its performance:

“We actually made a huge change between P3 and quali,”  Sargeant revealed. “It’s been a huge learning curve from yesterday to P3 to quali and to adapt from that throughout the runs. That for sure isn’t easy but I think we more or less maximised and the car was well balanced.”

His team-mate Alex Albon was left ruing some high-speed characteristics of his Williams, going even as far as saying it is a step backwards compared to the FW45 in some specific areas of the circuit:

“I would say there’s a couple of areas with this year’s car that’s slightly worse than last year’s. Not many, but there are,” he explained. “And this track has a lot of open corners, so these kind of a bit longer medium-high speed corners are a little bit worse. So we’re struggling a bit more in sector one.”

Difficulties with tyre preparation and tyre overheating also held Williams back on what Albon called an “abrasive asphalt” that punishes even the slightest moments of oversteer, which can cost tyre temperature and cause issues in the final sector of the lap:

“It’s a tricky track, this. I think you see it, even in Q3, that the track is so abrasive. It’s that old-school tarmac, so it really rips the tyre when you slide it a bit too much.

“And as you go through qualifying and you start driving faster and faster, you go quicker -and then you go slower as the tyre starts to overheat. A normal trend, but [it] caught me out a little bit in Spoon. Just went a bit quicker and paid the price.

“I could feel the rears going off a bit more than it did on the Q1 lap. Yeah, I mean, all in all, it’s not been a great weekend for us. We’ve been a little bit on the back foot.”

However, the recently turned 28-year-old is confident that the team’s wing choice will pay dividends in the race, as they went for a more trimmed out set-up that should give them an edge in terms of drag and straight line speed over the race:

“But at the same time, honestly, if you look at our straight line speed, it’s no secret. We’ve got less wing than everyone else. So I hope it helps us in the race.

“We’ve kind of gone down a skinny wing choice this weekend. We feel like the last couple of races we could have been a bit skinnier than we were. So we’ve been a bit braver this weekend and done it. So let’s see if it pays off [on Sunday].”