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Formula 1

Alpine-Mercedes prospect now key to Sainz's F1 driver market move

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
7 min read

Carlos Sainz’s decision on which Formula 1 team to join for 2025 has been delayed because Alpine has told him it could become a Mercedes engine customer.

Sainz is the bottleneck in a series of final F1 driver market moves, with Alpine rejoining Williams and Sauber/Audi in vying for his services and other drivers including Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Ocon impacted by which seat gets taken as well.

Sainz’s choice had essentially boiled down to Audi or Williams, but there had been dialogue with Alpine for months that remained open and the Renault-owned team recently re-emerged as a serious candidate.

The situation changed after Renault recruited Flavio Briatore as executive advisor earlier this month and started to weigh up whether to abandon its works engine programme.

While Alpine is proceeding with development of its 2026 engine for now, consideration has been given to switching to being a customer team instead – with Mercedes earmarked as the potential supplier.

This is understood to have been recently communicated to Sainz, whereas previously the allure of being a works team was central to Alpine’s pitch.

Though a decision has not been made on whether Renault will cease its engine project at Viry, presenting Sainz with the prospect of a Mercedes supply deal allows Alpine to position itself as either a full works team in 2026 or one that will have a supply from the manufacturer widely expected to be the benchmark under the new rules.

The fact it has interested Sainz enough to delay him committing to Williams already, which was thought to be on the brink of happening, suggests that Sainz’s preference is indeed to have a Mercedes engine for the new engine regulations in 2026.

However, it is still the case that if Sainz wants a Mercedes engine, his clearest route to that is Williams, because even if Alpine is interested in a deal of its own its discussions with Mercedes are in the early stages and could take weeks or months to complete.

Initial contact has been made between Alpine and Mercedes but negotiations over exact terms are not believed to have started.


Mercedes is already committed to its works team and two customers (Williams and McLaren in 2026) and will need convincing to add a third.

There are logistical elements to consider, like producing enough components for the first year of the new rules, but also another team to replace Aston Martin (which is partnering with Honda) at a standard supply cost would not be financially beneficial to Mercedes High Performance Powertrains.

Spending up to €15million is excluded from Alpine’s cost cap, anything beyond that would come out of its limited budget for the season.

This is the kind of negotiation that still needs to take place, and is likely to take too long to guarantee such an engine to Sainz any time imminently. And that is significant because this situation has dragged on so long that Sainz’s other options are running out of time and patience.

Bottas and Ocon are in the frame at Williams and Audi, who may decide against waiting for Sainz to learn what engine Alpine will run in 2026 before he makes his choice. If those teams decide to conclude negotiations with other drivers, it would leave Alpine as the only seat left for Sainz anyway, with Haas not thought to be an option.

That could even be Alpine’s play, by floating a prospective Mercedes deal to make Sainz wait long enough to ‘time out’ rivals.

“We've done everything we can from our side to present to him and his family why I believe this is the right place for him, why actually this isn't an outside bet,” Williams team principal James Vowles told The Race of his own bid for Sainz.

“This is both culturally and politically, but also from the strength of investment and people, the right place for him to be, and he’ll be pleasantly surprised by where we are in ‘26.

“But ultimately, it's his choice. He has to make a choice in what he feels and where he wants to be.

“[He was] not expecting to be choosing between two works teams towards the back of the grid and Williams, but he is. That's the situation.

“I feel for him, because it's not a situation he expected to be in.”

Vowles added: “My decision is making sure I have sufficient options on the table and if those options disappear, I will take action, and wish Carlos every success.”


If an Alpine-Mercedes deal materialises, it would raise questions of the Renault team and what exactly appeals to Sainz about the combination.

After rumours of Renault pulling the plug on the engine project emerged, team boss Bruno Famin offered no explicit denial last week in Spain.

He insisted I’m quite happy with what is being done in Viry” and that “we have quite high level targets, and for the time being we are optimistic in our ability to reach that target”.But “about the rumours, we just don't comment on the rumours - we owe a lot of respect to everybody in Viry working on that project and the worst thing would be to comment on the rumours”.

There is an argument that becoming a customer would show Renault is willing to do whatever it takes to succeed with its team, even if that means admitting it needs someone else’s engine to do it. 

It would also eliminate a huge cost centre for the F1 project, potentially ring-fencing its long-term future as Renault would not have to keep funding something so expensive. And in the short-term, given Renault has consistently underdelivered in the hybrid engine era, it would almost certainly guarantee a performance boost.

The counter-arguments are that it would confirm Renault has no faith in its own engine project, or at the very least is not committed enough to keep funding it, and is willingly sacrificing complete control of its F1 project – which is not much of a statement of ambition.

And if separating from Viry with a customer engine deal is really just a precursor to selling the team in the medium-term, which keeps being discussed in the F1 paddock as a logical end point for Renault, then Sainz could also be joining a team that changes ownership in the coming years.

That would contrast poorly, and lack a clear strategy, compared to what Vowles has planned for Williams and what Audi wants to achieve with Sauber as a new works team.


Carlos Sainz

Sainz would have hoped to have made his decision by now, as the drawn-out saga that is leaving other teams and drivers hanging is not good for him either.

However, as he pointed out on Thursday at the Red Bull Ring, being in the middle of the triple-header is “obviously not the right time” to take stock of his options in full “and think carefully about what's best for me, for my future, for my career”.

The best recent opportunity to do that was between the Canadian and Spanish GPs, which is when Sainz seemed most likely to choose Williams.

But that ended up being swallowed up by a busy week with Ferrari in Italy and then the build-up to his home grand prix. That and the subsequent change of position from Alpine have contributed to this delay.

As the choice is Sainz's, it will depend on what sways him most about the short-and-long-term prospects of each team and what kind of project he wants to join.

Sainz admitted this week: “By talking to teams, it has kind of shown me how tough this sport is: how little sometimes you have to believe what people say at the beginning of negotiations and conversations.

“Mainly [it has shown me] to trust people in the paddock very little, because it's really a very political sport, there's a lot of things like this involved.”

Hinting at issues with some of these negotiations should make Sainz extra alert to any potential agendas while making his final decision.

His Thursday remarks indicated that it may now be after the British Grand Prix next Sunday that he decides. But he is unlikely to know exactly what Alpine has to offer him for 2026 by then.

And if he wants to still be able to choose Williams or Audi instead, his decision needs to be made sooner rather than later.

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