The excitement of Saturday in Spielberg began with the 100km Sprint, a crucial event in the Austrian Grand Prix weekend. For Williams, the day was filled with strategic decisions and intense on-track action, particularly for Thai driver Alex Albon. The team opted to start Albon from the pit lane after making setup changes in parc fermé, setting the stage for a dramatic performance.

Sprint recap

The Sprint began with an aborted start, but once the race got underway, it was a clean start for most of the grid. Logan Sargeant, however, lost a position to Nico Hulkenberg early on. Despite starting from the pit lane, Alex Albon showed remarkable pace and by Lap 8 was right behind Zhou Guanyu. Albon executed a brilliant overtake on Zhou at Turn 3 on Lap 11, pulling away comfortably and setting his sights on Valtteri Bottas.

Meanwhile, Logan Sargeant defended against Daniel Ricciardo for several laps but was eventually overtaken on the sixteenth tour. Albon continued his charge, making a decisive move on Bottas with four laps remaining, overtaking him at Turn 3 and solidifying the position by Turn 4.

As the race neared its conclusion, Albon closed in on teammate Sargeant. The team allowed them to race freely as long as they kept it clean. Both drivers maintained their positions until the chequered flag. A post-race time penalty for Hulkenberg allowed Albon and Sargeant to climb to P16 and P17 in the classified results.

Qualifying

With data from the Sprint in hand, Williams headed into Qualifying. Unfortunately, it was a challenging session, with both drivers knocked out in Q1. The session saw the closest gap between the top 20 cars in F1 championship history. Albon and Sargeant each had three push laps, improving on every tour but ultimately falling short of Q2. Albon finished P16 with a time of 1:05.736, while Sargeant was P19 with 1:05.856.

Driver reactions

Alex Albon: “When you start a Sprint weekend not being in a happy place with the car, you’ve got more catching up to do. We’ve been making bigger changes than we normally do all weekend and I think we’ve done a decent job for the most part, however, I’m just struggling a lot with balance, especially in Turn 3 and 4. My lap for Q2, Lewis let me pass like normal, but I think I got some dirty air and locked up, so this was the difference with it being such fine margins for us. Either way, I’m happy with how we turned the car around, however, we need to understand where the balance is going ahead of tomorrow.”

Logan Sargeant: “It’s been a frustrating day. We’ve had such a swing of balance from session to session and we are so reliant on the right conditions to be quick. The temperature increased massively today, and we tend to struggle when that happens. I was happy with my qualifying lap this afternoon and I pretty much got the most out of it, but the ultimate result is disappointing and starting from near the back is never fun. The positive is that we learned a lot in the Sprint Race today that we can apply tomorrow, also making a change following the Sprint that will hopefully help for the race and move us in the right direction.”

Team insights

Sven Smeets, Sporting Director: “With Alex starting from the last row for the Sprint Race and being unhappy with the car set-up, we decided to make some changes resulting in a pitlane start. This has allowed us to gather valuable insights which will help us for the Grand Prix tomorrow. For Qualifying, the wind and the temperature picked up and we saw both drivers struggling more with the balance of the car. Alex missed out on Q2 by less than a tenth, with the midfield being so tight. Tomorrow we will see how the race evolves but with the high forecasted temperatures, it will become a big tire battle in the midfield.”

Looking forward

As Williams prepares for the Grand Prix on Sunday, the data and insights gained from Saturday’s Sprint and Qualifying will be crucial. The stage is set in Spielberg for an exciting Sunday, with Alex Albon aiming to deliver a strong performance for his team and his supporters in Thailand. As the temperatures rise, the challenge intensifies, promising a thrilling battle in the Austrian mountains.

Header image credit: Williams Racing

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