Carlos Sainz’s season started in the most difficult way possible - before he even turned a single metre, he was informed that he would be dropped from Ferrari at the end of the upcoming season.
Sainz stated last year that he hoped to enter the new season with a contract secured, but instead, he has been left without a drive and placed on the hunt for a new racing family.
Does the possibility exist that Sainz will be left without a drive next year? It’s unlikely, and there’s little doubt that Sainz is a key player in the driver market.
But for the Spaniard, there will be preferable destinations - so does he need to do anything on the track to ensure he lands where he wants?
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Sainz’s performances over the last number of years have placed a solid reputation on his head. Last year, he ranked sixth on RacingNews365’s end-of-season driver rankings.
There was likely no other available suitor who would have threatened his seat other than Lewis Hamilton, with Ferrari naturally swooping on the chance to sign the seven-time World Champion.
Even that scenario was highly unimaginable in the very hours before the news was made official and in the excitement of one of the biggest driver transfers of all time, it was easy to forget that it came at the cost of Sainz.
The 29-year-old is now considered an F1 veteran with nine seasons under his belt. During his rookie campaign, he went up against the rapid (but unpolished) Max Verstappen and spent almost three years at Toro Rosso before waving goodbye to the Red Bull family.
Over the coming years, Sainz attracted callings from major manufacturers, spending one full season at Renault before switching to McLaren. Unfortunately for Sainz, Renault could never reach beyond a midfield slot while McLaren's form has only swung upward following the Spaniard’s exit.
Still, consistent point-scoring form and using his machinery to the best of his abilities kept his stock high and ultimately landed him a spot at F1's most lucrative team.
But Ferrari has been unable to challenge for titles so far during his time spent at the Italian outfit. There, Sainz became a race winner by prevailing at the 2022 British Grand Prix before following up with a second victory in Singapore last year.
Out-performing team-mate Charles Leclerc was never a necessity and Sainz hasn’t exactly been embarrassed by his Monegasque partner. To call his tenure at Ferrari a failure would be a disservice to his efforts.
Nevertheless, Sainz will be disappointed that he has not yet got a shot at fighting for a World Championship and perhaps it is the one question mark that lingers over his head as he enters negotiations - is he a driver capable of handling the pressure of a consistent front-running effort?
Charles Leclerc vs Carlos Sainz at Ferrari
|Leclerc 13 - 9 Sainz
|Leclerc 12 - 9 Sainz
|Leclerc 15 - 7 Sainz
|Leclerc 40 - 25 Sainz
|Leclerc 14 - 9 Sainz
|Leclerc 15 - 7 Sainz
|Leclerc 12 - 10 Sainz
|Leclerc 41 - 26 Sainz
Who could sign him?
Sainz's strategic calls and interventions over the radio also showcase his maturity and understanding of a race situation, even amid the pressure to perform.
That performance level should be enough to attract several teams to the possibility of adding him to their arsenal, and there will likely be no shortage of suitors chasing his signature. But where could he end up?
An obvious candidate is Mercedes, who is looking to resurge itself back to title contention following two years of disappointment.
A direct swap between Hamilton and Sainz would be a solid landing spot for Sainz, but Mercedes may have other ideas over who it wishes to fit into the drive, namely Fernando Alonso or Kimi Antonelli.
Sainz to Mercedes would follow the Spaniard's theme of attracting major manufacturers, but so too would Audi who will enter the sport in 2026 and take over the Stake Sauber entry.
While Audi is unlikely to challenge for victories in its opening seasons, Sainz could play an integral role in lifting the German squad to a competitive level and be rewarded for his efforts with an extended contract and a potential chance to challenge for a title.
Or, should Mercedes opt to bring on board Alonso, could he replace his idol at Aston Martin ahead of its new era in partnership with Honda?
Whatever fate befalls Sainz, there will be no shortage of interest for a driver that has long proven his worth in F1.