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Carlos Sainz

'Sainz delivered Audi ultimatum' as team keen to snare 2026 F1 drivers early

Following recent confirmation that Audi will not withdraw its F1 project, the German manufacturer has switched their focus to finding its drivers

Sainz Saudi
Analysis
To news overview © XPBimages

RacingNews365 recently revealed that Audi would not withdraw from the Formula 1 project with Sauber, and now will join Grand Prix racing for the 2026 season, as planned.

Whereas Audi already has a CEO in place in Andreas Seidl, it also needs to make a decision soon on who will be the Team Principal in 2026. Will Alessandro Alunni Bravi stay on, will Seidl see that role for himself or will another team boss come into the picture after all? Would Allan McNish, for example, be an option?

Audi has plenty of choices when it comes to potential team bosses, but right now it seems to be especially busy looking for drivers.

It is currently making every effort to have the drivers for 2026 already on-board for 2025.

RacingNews365 previously wrote that Nico Hulkenberg is high on Audi's list and nothing has changed about that situation. The German is performing well at Haas, brings a wealth of experience and is also known as a driver who can help engineers develop a car.

Indeed, Hulkenberg's feedback is excellent and from there, the engineers can get to work, with a good example being the 2024 Haas car, with its Achilles' heel of tyre wear no longer such an issue, thanks in part to Hulkenberg's input.


The Sainz ultimatum

Carlos Sainz is also high on Audi's list. The Spaniard will leave Ferrari after this season as Lewis Hamilton joins the Scuderia.

It is a hefty disappointment for Sainz, who in his time at Ferrari was almost always able to take the fight to Charles Leclerc. Sources at Ferrari indicate that Sainz is like Hulkenberg, a driver capable of providing immense amounts of good feedback.

Just for that reason alone, Seidl would do anything to bring in Sainz.

The German previously worked with Sainz at McLaren, so he knows what to expect from the now three-time Grand Prix winner. Audi also won the Dakar Rally earlier this year with Carlos Sainz Senior, so the Ingolstadt concern is already familiar with the Sainz family and wants to achieve a successful partnership.

However, Seidl does not want to wait for Sainz forever, with speculation that he has given Sainz an 'ultimatum.'

This is that Sainz must sign an Audi contract by the end of April at the latest, but it is by no means certain that this will happen.

Mercedes has a seat to fill after Hamilton's departure, and Fernando Alonso is yet to re-sign with Aston Martin - with both teams interested in Sainz, who is also looking at the situation at Red Bull.

The 29-year-old is taking all the time he needs to decide on his future.

Making the right choice for 2026 is vitally important, with the latest changes to the technical regulations coming into force, and Sainz must choose a project that can compete for the world title.

His choice won't be influenced by the finances involved, so given his age, he will turn 32 in 2026, wants the best project to win now.

What about the current drivers?

wAt the moment, both current Stake F1 drivers are also still in the hunt for a seat in 2025.

Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu Zhou are making a good impression on the team and seem to have a good understanding of how to move the car forward, although points have not been scored in the new machine due to various wheel-nut issues at pit-stops.

Where Bottas brings immense experience, Zhou has his age and nationality as advantages.

The Chinese driver has performed very consistently over the past two seasons and as a result is also becoming better known in China.

The Chinese market in particular is very interesting for Audi. After all, about 10% of annual sales come from there. Given Zhou's results and background, he is still in the picture for Audi.

So both Bottas and Zhou will do everything they can to perform as well as possible in 2024. Zhou also indicated during his media session in Saudi Arabia that he is well aware that if he performs well this season, it could earn him a long-term contract with a factory team.

Other drivers do not seem to be in the picture for Audi at the moment, and drivers will contact Seidl, with the likes of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly having already sent their managers to talk with Audi, but must be considered outsiders for the seat.

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RESULTS 2024 F1 Chinese Grand Prix