Williams team principal James Vowles has defended Logan Sargeant against ‘pay driver’ allegations but admits he was “reticent” about the Formula 1 rookie after rejecting him for a Mercedes role.

New Williams boss Vowles has readily acknowledged the team must overcome years of underinvestment, which has previously led it to recruit the well-funded Nicholas Latifi, Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin.

Given F1’s popularity surge in the United States, some have labelled the signing of Sargeant – the first full-time American race driver in the series since Alexander Rossi’s four-race stint with Manor in 2015 – as also having been led by its commercial appeal after he finished fourth in Formula 2 last season.

But Vowles has hit back at those claims against the driver whose junior career was partially funded by Williams, saying that Sargeant is a genuine salaried driver who is “deserving” of his place in F1.

Vowles said: “I now have the ability to look at his data, and he is here on merit. As a result of Williams investing correctly in him, he's now a professional, deserving driver on the grid.”

Logan Sargeant at Australian GP 2023

Ex-Mercedes motorsport strategy chief Vowles did, however, concede he had been “wrong” about Sargeant previously after opting not to sign the driver to the Three-Pointed Star’s junior stable. 

He continued: “He came to Mercedes as a sim evaluation [driver] and 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 [Piastri] 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… Williams funded him because they had deep belief that he was the real deal. 

“My reticence came from the fact that prior to that it's difficult to really judge him… so it just shows you that my previous life I was wrong and Williams were right.”

Sargeant did impress on his grand prix debut in Bahrain, finishing two places behind rated team-mate Alex Albon in 13th before claiming 16th in Saudi Arabia.

However, he has been seen by many to be fortunate to escape a penalty from the FIA for colliding with Nyck de Vries at Turn 1 on the third standing start of a heavily-disrupted Australian GP.