Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, 2024

Audi or Williams? Uncertain Sainz should remember Raikkonen’s first Ferrari exit

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Carlos Sainz Jnr doesn’t know which team he wants to drive for next year but he does know he isn’t going to sit on the decision much longer.

“A decision will be taken very soon,” he said in today’s press conference, echoing his words on Spanish television a few days ago. “I don’t want to wait any longer.

“It’s getting to a point where it’s obviously taking space out of my head for quite a few weeks now and months. And I think it’s obviously time to make a decision and the decision will be taken soon, and hopefully soon we will have things to talk about.”

It’s 140 days since Lewis Hamilton’s shock move to Ferrari next year was announced and Sainz was made a free agent for next year. Since then several possible destinations for him have closed off: Aston Martin rehired Fernando Alonso and Red Bull extended Sergio Perez’s contract – though it’s doubtful they were every going to bring Sainz back in the fold having decided eight years ago to discontinue his partnership with Max Verstappen.

Charles Leclerc, Lewis Hamilton, Bahrain International Circuit, 2024
Hamilton will replace Sainz alongside Leclerc next year
That leaves the four teams at the back of the grid with vacancies. Of those, Sauber and Williams make the most compelling cases for the future.

Alpine has haemorrhaged top names from its technical division over the past 12 months. Haas lost its original team principal at the start of the season and it remains to be seen whether owner Gene Haas is committed to making a success of it, or whether it might go the way of his soon-to-closed NASCAR squad.

Sauber may be last in the championship but it will soon have the might of Audi behind it, and Sainz knows its CEO Andreas Seidl well from their days at McLaren. Williams makes an intriguing option as its new team principal appears to be finally turning around a once-great outfit which has been out of contention for far too long.

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Today Sainz admitted he doesn’t know which looks the best bet. “No, that’s the thing that I’m still not sure of one way or another,” he admitted. “It’s still something that I’m discussing with my team and brainstorming.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Albert Park, 2024
Sainz has already won for Ferrari this year
“I need a couple of days back at home. Before the Spanish Grand Prix I’ve been at home but you don’t have the head in the future, you have the head in the Spanish Grand Prix. It’s been a very hectic couple of weeks after Canada for me, so I haven’t had time to really sit down and take a decision. And this is what I will target in the next few weeks.”

As Sainz admitted, with new technical regulations coming for 2026 it’s impossible to know which of the competing options is the best bet. He indicated he is prepared to think more about how competitive his next team will be in the final year of the current regulations as well as the best long-term option.

“It’s a bit of a lottery or a coin toss to say who’s going to be quicker in ’26, given that the regulations are so different,” said Sainz. “The cars are completely different, the chassis, the engine, it’s almost impossible to predict who’s going to be performing in ’26.

“So then ’25 becomes also important at that stage. If I cannot predict ’26 and I do not know who’s going to be performing better, then ’25 is important for me too.

“It is also the long-term. It is also trying to understand the power unit side. It’s trying to understand the team dynamics. All these factors come into play when taking a decision. And that’s why it’s taking long and it’s taking time for me to find some time within myself to take the decision.”

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Given the circumstances of his departure from Ferrari, Sainz would be forgiven for feeling hard done by that the only options available to him are likely to be significantly less competitive than the car he is leaving behind. After all, the only driver who’s won more races than him in the last 12 months is Verstappen.

Frederic Vasseur, Ferrari, Circuit de Catalunya, 2024
Signing Hamilton was “not about Carlos” says Vasseur
Ferrari did not drop Sainz because they lost confidence in him. As team principal Frederic Vasseur said at the time, signing Hamilton was an opportunity they simply could not pass on.

“For the team, the opportunity of Lewis is something that you have to consider in any case,” said Vasseur. “He is the biggest promise of the field, he is the guy with the biggest experience and it’s a huge opportunity for us.

“It has nothing to do with Carlos. Carlos did a great job last year. I’m sure that he will do a great job [this] year.”

As hard as it is for Sainz to decide which of his job offers is the best, it’s no easier to predict whether the marriage between Hamilton and Ferrari will prove a success. The seven-times world champion has only moved once before in his career, this will be his first team outside Britain and he will face stratospherically high expectations of delivering the first title for the Scuderia in 16 years.

Then there is the inevitable question of how competitive a car he might have next year or the year after. Starved for success by almost two-and-a-half win-less seasons, Hamilton’s tolerance for an uncompetitive Ferrari may be very low.

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Furthermore, Hamilton is over a decade older than Sainz. He has already chosen to extend his career into his forties – longer than he originally intended to – and even if all goes well at Ferrari, he is surely much closer to the end of his career than the driver he is replacing.

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Hungaroring, 2014
Raikkonen returned to Ferrari after being dropped for Alonso
Sainz therefore has good cause to believe an opportunity to return to Ferrari could open up just a few years down the line. When that happens, he will have the advantage of being a known quantity to them. As long as he is uncertain about where he goes next, Sainz needs a contract which allows him to keep his options open.

There is an obvious parallel for Sainz’s situation in that Kimi Raikkonen faced at the end of 2009. Just two years after winning the championship with Ferrari, he was shown the door as they pounced on the opportunity to sign Fernando Alonso. But following a brief sabbatical and return to F1 with Lotus, Raikkonen was back in red a few years later.

Perhaps one of the options Sainz is considering will offer him a route to a race-winning car. But he shouldn’t overlook the possibility that the quickest way back to the front could be a Ferrari reunion.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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24 comments on “Audi or Williams? Uncertain Sainz should remember Raikkonen’s first Ferrari exit”

  1. It’s amazing that an unproven kid (Antonelli) and a mid-tier driver (Perez) get better seats than Sainz.

    It has to be Audi. But 2025 will hurt for Sainz. Maybe he should take a break sometime in 2025. Sauber/Audi would lose nothing, Sainz would lose nothing but could win a bit of freshness and less frustration. He could take part in 10-15 race weekends and leave the rest for the reserve driver.

    1. An Sionnach
      20th June 2024, 18:17

      Yes, perhaps. It might be likely that Williams will be more competitive next year, but at Audi he should be number one. This is why the market has not been kind to Sainz – Red Bull and Aston already have their number ones. I don’t get Mercedes’ reasoning. Are they still holding out for Max and happy to put Antonelli in a Williams? Sainz should outperform Bottas, if that’s who his Audi team mate would be. I don’t know about Albon, but Sainz has a good chance against him. The thing is he’s almost a talisman at Williams already.

      Sainz might be best not to try and keep his options open at all and think about the Michael Schumacher move to Ferrari. He was the man the team would be built around and they were willing to spend big to get the right people to build a car just for him. To win the championship against Max, Lewis or Lando it might be best done in a car that is better than theirs, and in a team where he is the clear number one.

      Ferrari is doing well, but their driver configuration is not good. It should be a project built around Lewis… or Leclerc.

      Red Bull has the right idea, but Max can only win if they give him the car. They may be hanging on for dear life by the end of the season. Max at Mercedes would be interesting, as surely there will be clashes with Russell, who will outqualify him on occasion and then take rash actions to prevent a pass.

      Mercedes probably doesn’t have the right driver in Russell. Perhaps like Tsunoda, his problem isn’t speed, or even race pace, it’s something he can fix if he focuses on it. Think about Prost and Lauda. What would they do in pressure situations where they’re in a good position to score points? Whatever it would be, you can bet it would result in the maximum points haul without risking a DNF. Antonelli could be just the right amount of pressure to put on Russell to get it together, without being a vote of no confidence in him. If Russell really is keen to take on Max in the same team, then fair play to him!

      McLaren has two drivers who are evenly matched. This could be a problem if Oscar can pick up his race pace.

      Aston has the right idea and, on rare occasions, we’ve seen that when push comes to shove, Alonso is their number one. He’s helping them build the team that will then be handed to Stroll if he continues in F1. The problem is that they may never have a good car for more than a few races. If the next Honda engine is not way better than the others, this project may fizzle out.

      1. An Sionnach
        20th June 2024, 18:25

        Of course, Sainz’s team mate at Audi would be Hulkenberg. I think Albon should still be better than him. Hulkenberg is more of a qualifying specialist. Should be a good driver for Audi to have.

      2. But Michael was able to bring over all the best staff from Benetton. So, the situations is and apples to oranges, especially considering how much bigger organizations are today than back then (a few hundred vs 1,000+) and Sainz doesn’t have the pull to be making personnel decisions at Audi.

        1. An Sionnach
          21st June 2024, 9:21

          I expect that it will be Audi who will get the big names. Sainz is no Schumacher, but this team’s project could be like Todt’s Ferrari. It mat also flop or anything in between, but it could be the best bet for Sainz. There are more talented drivers, but he can be champion in the right car.

          1. We’ll see. I don’t think he’s going there. And I think it’s the right call. Another thing we’ll just have to wait and see.

  2. You will achieve far more next year with Williams than you will with Sauber.
    If Audi wants you so bad, they will offer you another deal next year anyway.
    Even more so if you perform as well as I think you might in the Williams.

  3. Adam (@rocketpanda)
    20th June 2024, 18:01

    I know F1 teams would like the best available driver in their teams but Sainz seems to have his eye on different teams for 26-27, and if I were Williams/Sauber-Audi I’d want a driver that actually wants to be there instead of trying to keep their options open for whatever the future brings. Ultimately with those as his likely choice I find it weird there is a choice at all – being able to essentially lead a brand new manufacturer, especially Audi, seems like a very worthwhile adventure.

    1. The Dolphins
      20th June 2024, 18:10

      I’d want a driver that actually wants to be there instead of trying to keep their options open for whatever the future brings.

      Don’t kid yourself, the teams are playing this game as much as any driver. Everyone is making decisions with contingencies and future options.

    2. An Sionnach
      20th June 2024, 18:33

      I agree. If I was Audi and was not met with enthusiasm with Sainz, I’d want to get someone who is committed to the project instead. The trouble is, who is there to get? They already have Hulkenberg. They could do with a good all-round driver and everyone who is left other than Ocon is significantly deficient in at least one area. After Sainz and Ocon, Mick Schumacher could be a better bet. Actually, if they want to take the hump and tell Sainz to forget it, they could roll the dice and go straight to Schumacher. He certainly has the work ethic to develop a car and put the team first. 2025 could be the year they learn whether he can answer the questions that are unanswered due to his premature exit from F1. If Mick does end up to be the disaster his detractors make him out to be, see if Ocon is available for 2026. By then, perhaps Sainz commitment phobia may have been cured.

    3. I think Williams’ plan is to lure Sainz into a 2+2 contract, and then convince him to stay by showing vast improvements over the first two years. I think this would be his best bet, in the short term at least. He’ll still be young enough to get a good seat in 2027, especially if he impresses in the Williams. By that time, Audi might be a great option for him.

      1. Precisely. Their plan is to lure him by giving him the flexibility to leave if a top seat comes open, but obviously hope to keep him by improving enough he wants to stay. But, even if he’s only there temporarily, he adds so much performance to compared to the other options it’s totally worth it. Also, odds are they will be faster during the next two seasons at least than Audi. So, there really is no upside to Audi besides the low % chance of them producing some world beater out of the gates.

  4. Neil (@neilosjames)
    20th June 2024, 19:45

    It’s a shame Mercedes and Williams couldn’t make a little deal in case it’s decided Antonelli needs a bit more time and another year closer to the back of the grid before going to the big team.

    Antonelli – Williams for the rest of 2024, and also maybe 2025, accompanied by a nice bag of euros from Stuttgart.
    Sainz – Williams 2025, or loaned to Mercedes in return for an even bigger bag of euros.

    Good for Sainz, good for Mercedes. Williams… I don’t pay a huge amount of attention to team budgets/who is at the cap, but I’m sure money is still a good incentive, especially with the CapEx allowance given some teams could do with better facilities. So probably good for them too.

    1. That is still a possibility even if Williams signs Carlos, but Mercedes would need to really provide a huge cash incentive as they’ve already agreed to a very close technical relationship under the new rules, which is another thing that makes Williams attractive to Sainz.

  5. Stephen Taylor
    20th June 2024, 20:06

    Drawing parallels with Raikkonen’s second spell is interesting . Firstly because Keith seemingly forgotten how underwhelming Kimi’s second spell at Ferrari was and with the benefit of hindsight it was probably a mistake to sign him . Also when Ferrari when the they re-signed Kimi for 2014 were still headed by Luca Di Montezemelo who known to like to make some cautious and conservative driver choices . I think Elkann is a leader who prepared to make bold choices and look forward not look back . I think Ferraris ideal scenario would be to put Ollie Bearman in one car replace Lewis. People should also remember that Kimi effectively got a longer stay of execution at Ferrari than he should have because of the Jules Bianchi tragedy

  6. Kimi made champ in his first year. What soured the rest of his first stint was the ineptitude of Domeniicali as TP plus the politics plus the continued interference of Schumacher.
    I don’t think Lewis is good at politics. Also he is already in the twilight of his career. By contrast Kimi was in his prime when he switched to Ferrari. So I don’t see Lewis achieving much at Ferrari: but he will be a rich man.

  7. Its either, hope for another chance at Red Bull, or go with a team that offers opportunities after F1. Because of Mercedes toxic && politically correct ecotude, I would definitely swing towards Audi, a junior team (haas/vcarb), or WEC. Williams will continue to be dull and take their marching orders from Mercedes, whose only shot at winning is through rule changes, politics and bribery.

    1. lol. I think the article about the anonymous Hamilton “sabotage” emails addresses your demographic at length.

  8. Carlos Sainz is a top target for Williams, and their partnership with Mercedes could be a significant factor in his decision. As for Mercedes, they are likely to develop a competitive engine for the 2026 season. If Verstappen were to move to Mercedes, it would certainly shake things up. George Russell might (should) feel the pressure, especially with his contract expiring in 2025. Toto Wolff has expressed a lot of interest in both Max Verstappen and Andrea Kimi Antonelli. Lineup with Verstappen and Antonelli could be incredibly strong! Verstappen’s experience and skill combined with Antonelli’s youthful talent and potential would make for a formidable team. Russel position is at stake …later known as Audi F1 team :)

    1. He’s seen Charles is not a driver who will deliver a WDC if drivers like Max, Alonso and likely Lando too have equal or even slightly inferior machinery. I also think Lewis would still comfortably beat him in equal machinery if said machinery were of title contending caliber.

      1. He’s seen George is not a driver* (and “he” = Toto to be clear)

        It’s 4 AM here and it’s showing.

  9. It’s pretty awful that a driver of Saint’s caliber hasn’t got one of the top flight teams looking to hire him.
    Either there’s something that we don’t know about his relationship in a team, or he’s been seriously dudded.
    I’d love to see him legitimately outscore his team mate this year and raise a finger to the team on his final lap.

    1. Well, we know why he doesn’t have a seat. Of the top seats, there are only two that are not filled by top drivers and one of those seats is owned by the driver’s father and the other is occupied by a guy resigned to keep Max happy and bring in tons of sponsor $. So, nothing going on. Just not enough top seats. And if you think he has hard luck, he’s nowhere close to as good as Alonso and he suffered a decade’s worth of hopeless cars.

  10. Mercedes is foolish to pass Sainz up for the 17 year old. It would be better to run Antonelli in a Williams for a couple years. In the meantime the Russell / Sainz driver pairing would be near the top of the grid (third?). They’d have a much better shot at the constructors championship.

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