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Formula 1

The absurdity of Sainz's 2025 F1 situation

by Edd Straw
6 min read

Put yourself in Carlos Sainz’s shoes. You’re racing for Ferrari, you’re the only driver to have won a grand prix without a Red Bull for 18 months and you’re in the form of your life, yet somehow you don’t have a seat for 2025.

It’s an absurd situation for a driver with his track record, one that has only arisen because of Lewis Hamilton’s shock move to Ferrari, so you wouldn’t blame Sainz for being frustrated.

He’s in contention for Red Bull, as Helmut Marko has confirmed, while he’s also in the mix at Mercedes. However, he’s not the top choice for either – for now - given Sergio Perez is on target to get an extended say at F1’s dominant team and Mercedes is chasing the longest of long-shots in Max Verstappen while evaluating 17-year-old Kimi Antonelli as seemingly its preferred 'realistic' option.

Carlos Sainz and Helmut Marko, F1

With doors closed at McLaren and Aston Martin, the best dead-cert offer for Sainz is a big-money, long-term move to Audi to spearhead Sauber’s transformation into its works team, which would represent a big step back even though the longer-term hopes are high.

Sainz is determined to hold on in the hope that either Mercedes or Red Bull open up for him, with Audi content to wait – for now at least. It’s a risky strategy, but one that promises high rewards, should it come off.

“If it will be positive or negative will always depend on my performance,” says Sainz when asked by The Race how difficult it is to navigate this decision. “The good thing in this sport is that, if you perform well, normally things end up coming your way.

“It can be frustrating at times, I'm not going to lie, the unknown, and going to bed some days without knowing what the future is going to bring. It’s sometimes frustrating, uncomfortable, other times it's exciting, because there's news every day, honestly, there's new things every day that come to you.

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari, F1

“The good thing is I'm managing to separate both things and perform well on track. [I] leave the other stuff to my management team, and the weeks off that we get, things are progressing nicely.

“But it shows how tough F1 is. For someone that maybe sees it from the outside, a guy that is performing so well and still doesn't know where he's going to race next year, in other sports maybe this doesn't happen so often. So, it just shows F1 is a very particular sport, political in some ways, sport-dependent in others.

"When Netflix [Drive to Survive] puts it the way they put it, it can be very exciting from the outside once you get to know all the things that go inside. So it's what attracts a different fanbase and it's part of F1. I accept it and embrace it and keep doing my thing.”

The complexity of his decision is multiplied by the major rule changes for 2026.

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari, F1

While Sainz keen for a good drive in 2025, the only potentially available seat that can be regarded as a banker is Red Bull, where he would be guaranteed to win races. But even that is clouded in uncertainty for 2026 given the new engines and the fact Red Bull is designing and building its own power unit for the first time. It has recruited well and created formidable facilities, but it’s still unproven.

That 2026 uncertainty - not just at Red Bull, everywhere - is why Sainz is considering all options, even beyond the top teams and Audi.

That even includes Williams, which is making a good case about its long-term plans. 

“All the options are viable ones right now for me,” Sainz says. “Because I don’t have a deal for next year, I need to consider all the options. Given the huge regulation changes in 2026, I consider ’26 a coin toss. It’s impossible to know right now who is going to get it right.

“It doesn’t matter how much you talk to teams, how much they sell you on how good they're doing with the engine - the reality is no one knows. And if someone wins in '26, it's in my opinion not because of smart decision-making but just because you've been at the right place at the right time.

“Regarding '25, my opinion is with the level I'm showing and I'm driving now, being in a competitive car would be very happy for me. But it doesn't depend on me, I need to keep waiting.”

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari, F1

It's to Sainz’s credit that his on-track performances haven’t suffered. If anything, they are better than ever. While he’s had plenty of impressive spells throughout his career, he’s performing very well compared to Leclerc.

He’s outqualified him three times out of five, with an average advantage of 0.120s, while his race results have also been strong.

In Bahrain, Leclerc had a conclusive edge and only finished behind his team-mate because of braking troubles, but Sainz was stronger in Australia and Japan. It was nip and tuck in China - with strategy and the damage Sainz sustained in his battle with Fernando Alonso in the sprint making his performances look worse than they were.

Sainz disputes whether this is his best form, but the debate is really only about whether he’s better than ever rather than at the top of his game because it’s clear he is performing well.

“Am I at my best? I don't know,” he says. “It’s been my strongest start to the season since I'm in Ferrari, this is not secret. It’s a difficult thing to answer. Obviously, it looks like it because the results are showing.

“But I've also been at my best in McLaren, I've been at my best in Toro Rosso.

Carlos Sainz, McLaren, F1

"What changes is the car. Some years you have a better car than others, some years you have a better qualifying car or a better race car. This year we have a good compromise between qualifying and race, it seems.

“I'm driving to a very good level but I've been in F1 at a good level before."

Sainz is certainly delivering on track and it’s clear that had Ferrari not signed Hamilton, he would be extending his stay at Maranello. As he says, the best currency in the driver market is performance so it’s to his credit that he’s delivering every weekend.

Whether that’s enough to move the needle for Red Bull and Mercedes in itself is doubtful. But what is clear is Sainz has resolved to ensure that if the sands shift at either of those teams and the top choices for those seats don’t come off, then he is at the top of the list. As he says, “I know some of those options don't fully depend on me”.

If they're a no-go, he will likely have to make the move to Audi. That outcome appears most likely right now and it’s a deal that offers a lot more to the team than the driver, at least in the short-term.

All Sainz can do is keep doing what he’s doing and remind everyone week-in, week-out just how good he is.

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