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Carlos Sainz

Why Sainz may have to abandon Audi and look elsewhere

Carlos Sainz has long been linked with a move to Audi - the German factory team is eager to attract him, but it may be a smarter option for Sainz to look beyond the 2026 newcomers.

Sainz Japan
Analysis
To news overview © XPBimages

Lewis Hamilton's decision to join Ferrari marked the biggest driver transfer in years, or perhaps ever. The biggest casualty from this was Carlos Sainz, who was told to pack his bags and look for a new employer.

So far, however, he has not let the decision impact his form. In fact, the Spaniard is performing admirably, winning the Australian Grand Prix and scoring a further duo of podiums.

But he still has to ask himself the question - 'Where do I go amid the peak of my career?'

Audi appears to be a serious option. The Sainz family already has ties to the German car manufacturer as Carlos Sainz Snr won the Dakar Rally earlier this year in a hybrid Audi machine.

Sainz Snr also pointed out that Audi has been successful in all racing classes and could therefore be of interest to his son. Add to that the fact Sainz has already worked with Audi F1 CEO Andreas Seidl at McLaren and you can almost see the switch happening.

But according to the latest rumours, Seidl will not wait for Sainz forever. The driver is said to have received an ultimatum: sign a contract by the end of April or we will look elsewhere.

Audi, in its current state, is still going through life as Stake F1 and the results have not been fantastic. Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu Zhou dangle at the back of the midfield and have yet to score any points, hindered by a fundamental pit stop issue that has impacted the team.

A step backward

Of course, it's not just about the faulty pit stops and lack of speed, but also Sainz's ambitions. The 29-year-old can be considered at the peak of his career, and will be eyeing up winning machinery sooner rather than later.

But that is not going to happen in 2025 when he would slot in as a Stake F1 driver. The Spaniard will know it's a step backwards ahead of Audi's arrival the following year. The team is setting all its sights on 2026 and that can be a tough mental adjustment, especially since Sainz is now often fighting for podium finishes and at best, victories at Ferrari.

In addition, Sainz would be taking a huge gamble by making a long-term commitment to Audi. The team is very ambitious, but past experience has shown that entering Formula 1 is no minor challenge.

A strong example is Alpine, which returned as Renault in 2016, who invested a lot of money and is now dangling at the back of the grid with a a series of senior figure departures over the last 12 months. Entry is not a guarantee of success - although Audi seems to have a good and realistic plan.

But suppose Audi is competing towards the rear in 2026 and 2027, Sainz may be past his peak and the question shifts to whether he will get another chance at a top team or not.

A wrong choice can have dire consequences, and does he want to let a potentially unique opportunity at Red Bull, Mercedes or Aston Martin slip away if they are angling for his services?

So far it is also not at all clear where Audi stands. There were a series of rumours about the factory team, suggesting Audi wanted to pull the plug on the project - although RacingNews365 was able to verify that it was not the case.

The German then outlined its intention to take 100 percent control of the Sauber company. But any unrest is never good and it is not entirely clear at this time how the development of the 2026 engine is progressing.

What will happen?

It doesn't seem long before Sainz will announce something about his future. The Spaniard already indicated that he wants clarity soon and time for contemplation is running out. Sainz knows that Mercedes will wait longer, partly because of the situation surrounding Max Verstappen and Red Bull, which Sainz in turn is also watching with interest.

He does not seem to be the top candidate with the Milton Keynes-based team, but that could change rapidly if Verstappen were to announce a shock departure.

Maybe Aston Martin is also an option for Sainz, but that again depends on the choice Fernando Alonso will make. Will Sainz's compatriot stay, go to another team or quit entirely? Should the latter case formulise, Sainz may yet knock on the door of the team that will partner with Honda come 2026.

Sainz is at a very important crossroads. Does he go for a chance with a reputable Formula 1 team or do you gamble on Audi? One thing is certain: if Audi and Sainz manage to perform together and perhaps even become world champions, he can boast about a great choice for life.

It's just far from certain...

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