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Formula 1

Alpine-Mercedes timeline complicates Sainz's 2025 choice

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

Mercedes has ruled out a deal to supply Alpine with Formula 1 engines being completed this month, which can have an interesting impact on the 2025 driver market.

Renault is yet to decide whether its works programme will continue in full into the new car and engine rules that start in 2026, as it may scrap the engine project and become a customer instead.

This consideration has either been driven entirely by the arrival of Flavio Briatore as executive advisor to Renault CEO Luca de Meo, or at least accelerated by the ex-Renault F1 boss’s return.

An initial discussion has been held with Mercedes about a potential supply and this has been relayed to Carlos Sainz, the driver Alpine is trying to sign for next season. Sainz was believed to be close to signing for Williams, a confirmed Mercedes customer for 2026, before this Alpine development prompted him to delay deciding which team to join.

However, if Alpine’s engine plan is key to Sainz’s decision – and it must be given the prospect of a works team (which didn’t seem to appeal previously) is different to being a customer – then Sainz will likely have to wait several weeks to know which direction Alpine takes.

Asked by The Race about Renault exploring a Mercedes customer deal for 2026 and at what stage this was at, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said: “It’s a complicated situation because we like the thought of replacing Aston Martin [which is switching to a works Honda engine in 2026] with another team because of the sheer learning you are doing.

“We are set up as an organisation that the more power units the better it is in terms of accelerating some of the developments and the reliability.

“It [Alpine supply talks] didn’t go beyond a point of exchanging opinions or having exploratory discussions.

“Alpine would [need to] take a decision, do they want to continue with their Formula 1 engine programme or not? And only when they have taken that strategic decision would we dive into our agreements.

“But we are open-minded. That is what we have told them.”

When McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown, speaking in the press conference alongside Wolff at the British Grand Prix on Friday, said that Alpine would presumably be looking to make a decision by the summer break because it needs to get on with its 2026 preparations, that prospect was put directly to Wolff.

But on whether that timeline is possible, Wolff said: “No. It’s far too complicated and a long-lasting impactful decision for Alpine to make.”

As Sainz seems to have been turned by Alpine’s prospective Mercedes deal, he will presumably want to know for sure what engine he will have in 2026 if he joins that team. But Wolff’s answer indicates that assurance won’t come anytime soon.

That implies either a further delay in Sainz making his decision, unless he opts to commit to Alpine imminently regardless of what is confirmed.

If Sainz delays, he may lose his main alternative. Williams does not want to keep waiting and is readying a deal with Valtteri Bottas instead. The seat at Sauber, which becomes Audi’s works team in 2026, may remain available for longer though if Haas finalises an expected deal with Esteban Ocon.

Sainz needs the best short-to-medium-term prospect. Unless Mercedes itself is seriously an option again, as has been indicated this week, he is choosing between underwhelming options with different problems, different strategies, and different timelines for improving.

It may be that Sainz has been sufficiently swayed already by Briatore’s arrival, combined with knowing he’ll either be in a works team (which at least has a high upside even if Renault has routinely underperformed in F1) or have the Mercedes engine he clearly covets.

An Alpine deal is being reported in the Italian media, but whether that reflects reality or simply Briatore’s own confidence is hard to discern. Sainz himself says that no decision has been taken, though.

In terms of what influences his interest in Alpine, the arguments for and against Renault becoming a Mercedes customer are quite straightforward.

While becoming a customer would be unambitious and mean Renault is admitting it cannot succeed as an engine manufacturer in F1, and/or unwilling to fund the programme to the level required, it would eliminate a huge cost centre for the F1 project.

That could potentially ring-fence Alpine’s long-term future as Renault would not have to keep funding something so expensive. The flip side is that many in the paddock believe it would also make the team easier to sell, and that this could be Renault’s end game.

A Mercedes customer deal would at least show Renault is willing to do whatever it takes to succeed with its works team.

Renault has consistently underdelivered in the hybrid engine era, so a Mercedes switch would almost certainly guarantee a performance boost. Alpine has done well to recover from a truly awful start to 2024, and is performing better than Williams and Sauber, it is still carrying an engine deficit.

Whereas what McLaren is doing as a Mercedes engine customer, establishing itself as Red Bull’s most consistent threat, is something greater to aspire to.

However, both McLaren and Williams have indicated that Alpine will be on the back foot for 2026 given the late nature of any decision to become a customer. That could be taken as a warning for Sainz not to believe that a Mercedes engine will automatically make Alpine a more competitive prospect.

Williams team boss James Vowles said: “From our perspective, we have been working alongside HPP in order to get the concept right for 2026 for many, many months.

“And so whatever you do [as Alpine], you’re going to be six to 12 months behind the three other teams. That’s quite penalising in the grand scheme of things.

“It doesn’t mean it’s unachievable but there’s going to be areas where you’re going to be compromising on because it’s a tremendous amount of work in the 26 regs and the smallest decision on layout can actually have quite a large impact.”

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