Carlos Sainz faces dwindling F1 options after top teams look elsewhere for 2025

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MONTREAL — The confirmation that Sergio Pérez will remain with Red Bull Racing for the next two years came as little surprise. Yet it was an important step in the 2025 driver market ‘silly season.’

By locking in Pérez alongside Max Verstappen for next year, Red Bull shut off what was regarded as Carlos Sainz’s last realistic option to remain with a front-running team following his exit from Ferrari.

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Sainz has been F1’s highest-profile free agent since the start of February when Lewis Hamilton shook up the driver market and displaced him with a shock move to Ferrari in 2025. Sainz’s victory in Australia, a little over two weeks removed from abdominal surgery, further boosted his stock.

At the time, Sainz said it was “time now to speed up a bit everything” in talks with prospective teams, particularly with vacant seats remaining at Red Bull, Mercedes and Aston Martin. Surely, if any of those teams wanted to sign a new driver, Sainz would be at the top of their lists.

But the market was already moving away from him. Fernando Alonso signed a multi-year renewal with Aston Martin, announced after Japan. Red Bull was content with an extension for Sergio Pérez off the back of his early-season results. Confirmation of the new Red Bull deal on Monday left Mercedes as the only hope for Sainz to remain at the head of the grid. However, the German manufacturer looks increasingly likely to field Andrea Kimi Antonelli, its 17-year-old protege currently racing in Formula Two, next year.

Red Bull’s decision to stick with Pérez didn’t surprise Sainz, who said on Thursday in Canada that he “already knew for a while” what would happen. The fact it went public did not change his future a great deal. “(There’s) still plenty of options on the table,” he said. “Everything else is still open. But we’ll find out more in the next few weeks.” There are four teams with seats he could take: Sauber, Williams, Alpine, or Haas. From those, Sauber, which will become Audi’s works team in 2026, and Williams seem like the most realistic options.

As upbeat as Sainz may be, he knows those options mean he will not be racing for a team currently in the upper half of F1’s competitive order after this season. He laughed about the rogue media reports he’s spotted in recent months, given his status on the market. “I remember seeing reports three months ago that I had signed for Mercedes or reports that I had signed for Red Bull,” Sainz said. “Obviously, those places are not going to happen. So it’s funny.”


A move to Sauber could still be in the cards for Carlos Sainz. (Photo by JOSEPH EID/AFP via Getty Images)

Audi’s interest in Sainz has been strong for some time, even prior to the announcement of his departure from Ferrari. Audi is keen on hiring a driver around whom it can build the new works project for the long term, buying into its vision for the future. It would not be a move without risk, given this is the first time Audi has been involved in F1 and Sauber’s current competitive standing, which is last in the constructors’ championship.

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Sainz, 29, is in the peak years of his F1 career and would be acting on faith in the project’s long-term merits. If he were sold on what Audi has put on the table, would he not have already put pen to paper?

This is where Williams comes into play. Under team principal James Vowles and with its owner, Dorilton Capital, investing in updating its infrastructure and making up for years of underfunding, Williams is firmly on the upswing, even if its results this year haven’t completely reflected that.

Alex Albon recently committed to a new long-term deal that will keep him with the team through to the next cycle of regulations in 2026, when Williams will hope that its customer Mercedes engine deal offers a boost as its infrastructure updates come online. A driver going from Ferrari to Williams was unthinkable a couple of years ago. Now, for Sainz, it is a serious option. But be it Sauber or Williams, it’s not a team that will be winning races next year.

Sainz is a driver who has always thrived on stability. It wasn’t until his fifth F1 season with McLaren in 2019 that he had a multi-year contract, giving him the chance to properly put down roots and give his all to a project. While a short-term deal might look appealing in case another driver market shake-up opens doors next year, Sainz isn’t thinking of a stop-gap or something to tide him over.


Williams team principal James Vowles has re-signed Alex Albon, but has a decision to make on Logan Sargeant. (Kym Illman/Getty Images)

“I’m still a firm believer that in Formula One, to be successful, you need a medium to long-term project,” Sainz said. “I don’t think you’re ever going to be successful in Formula One to go one year somewhere to win and then leave. I think you need a proper project for those things to happen.”

Sainz doesn’t want to discount the performance of his future team in 2025 from his thinking, saying it would be “equally important (as) ’26 or ’27.” But he knows, as does everyone in the paddock, that the regulation change in 2026 will be where the biggest gains are made.

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“I think 2026 is going to be a lottery,” Sainz said. “I could go somewhere, any of the options I have on top of the table, and be successful or not. And even one of the top teams could nail it or not. 2026, very honestly speaking, it’s almost impossible to predict who is going to be on top.”

Impossible to predict. Yet it is also a vital decision for the next chapter of Sainz’s career post-Ferrari, not one that he is looking to rush or stir up through comments about his potential teams. Instead, he’s taking heart in that after having his Ferrari future decided for him at the start of the year, he now has full control of his destiny.

“I don’t think many drivers in their career have in front of them an opportunity of choosing where they can go and spend the rest of the next two or three years,” Sainz said. “Everyone I have talked to, I felt wanted. I felt like people really want me in their team.

“This makes me feel proud and positive about the future.”

Top photo:  Clive Rose/Getty Images