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Valtteri Bottas

Could the 2026 Audi project be too late for Bottas?

Valtteri Bottas has signified that he would like to stay at Sauber when the eventual takeover at Audi comes along in 2026. But has the opportunity to race in a top team already passed for the Finn?

Bottas Abu Dhabi
To news overview © XPBimages

It's fair to say that Valtteri Bottas' move away from Mercedes during its peak can be viewed either as a success or a failure.

On the one hand the team is struggling to match Red Bull and dealing with multiple car problems, while the grass is not that much greener on the other side.

Sauber has failed to regularly score points with its last two cars, with Bottas slipping back from 10th to 15th place in the Drivers' Championship between 2022 and 2023.

Most of their failings in 2023 can be traced back to their car concept and lack of updates that provided meaningful lap time improvements, leading to lacklustre results on track and weekends where the team was left scratching their heads on car setup.

For his part, Bottas has been embracing his lighter side - something he perhaps could not do when his hands were tied by the cooperate Mercedes image.

He recently voiced his desire to stick with Sauber through the 2026 season, when the team is going to be taken over by Audi as a works outfit.

But is 2026 too little too late for the Finn?

Audi has a lot of work to do

Audi has a lot of work it needs to do prior to making its F1 debut in 2026, with the current setup designed to be a gradual takeover of the Sauber team.

Their goal is to be competitive out of the box and fight for wins within three years of joining the grid, similar to how Mercedes came in and bought Brawn in 2009 and spent a few years building it up into the title-winning juggernaut it is today.

Bottas has intimate knowledge of the Mercedes set-up, so he is therefore the ideal candidate while Sauber spends the next three years ramping up its operation in time for the full takeover.

The team has not finished in the top half of the Constructors' Championship since the 2012 season, largely owing to the numerous setbacks it has faced in a bid to stay afloat.

The latest 'pre-Audi' chapter sees them ditching Alfa Romeo in favour of gambling company 'Stake' which is co-owned by hip-hop star Drake. Famous names aside, Sauber needs to produce respectable results on track otherwise Bottas risks being part of the 2025 driver market talk.

By then many teams will want to lock in their options ahead of the major regulation changes for 2026, with Bottas likely being a candidate for the seat at Audi.

Too little, too late?

The question is whether Audi will see him as valuable beyond helping the initial phase of their build up, given his track record alongside Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes.

During their time together at the Silver Arrows, Hamilton took 50 Grands Prix wins and four Drivers' Championships while Bottas scored 10 victories.

To achieve their goals of winning races within three years, they will need drivers that know how to do that and still have the hunger for championships.

Bottas will be 36 by the time the Audi takeover happens at Sauber - one would have to go all the way back to 1996 when Damon Hill won the title at 36 years-old and 26 days to find the last World Champion in that age bracket.

There is no doubt that Bottas can still race in the pinnacle of motorsport at that age, but if he is unable to show that he can get the most out of an average car in the next couple of years then waiting around for a drive at Audi could be a lost cause.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

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