It’s puzzling that Ferrari’s formal confirmation of Charles Leclerc’s long-touted new deal to drive for the team in Formula 1 hasn’t been accompanied by the announcement that Carlos Sainz is also staying on.
Ferrari must prioritise getting a signature on that new contract, too, given it has a formidable driver line-up.
You can make a case that Ferrari has the best driver line-up in F1, although there’s plenty of room to dispute that. However, an even stronger, perhaps even unanswerable, case can be made that it’s the most exquisitely well-balanced given the characteristics of the duo mean they make a formidable combination.
Ferrari will never say it, but Leclerc is regarded as the number one driver. That’s not because of being given better equipment or any nefarious activities, simply that he’s reckoned to be the faster of the two. Those who work in F1 teams recognise such a natural order so it’s more about understanding that’s the case rather than creating the situation where it’s true.
However, Sainz is not far behind and is far from slow. While Leclerc offers that extreme speed, to the point where some regard him as the fastest driver in F1, Sainz offers a different skill set and makes a formidable technical contribution.
Plus, there are times when the car characteristics aren’t as hoped, such as if it has to be a little more understeery, where he can get more out of it than Leclerc.
Here, it's important to note that Leclerc tends to be that bit quicker when fundamentally faster car characteristics predominate, so it’s not a question of favouring one or the other and is instead about cold, hard laptime.
It's overall a very simple way of looking at their skillsets - but it’s rare to have such a clear-cut case of a driver line-up covering each other’s weaknesses.
And the fact that really they aren’t outright weaknesses, but more areas where they aren’t perhaps as strong as in other characteristics, tells you how strong the sum of their parts is. Were Ferrari to produce a genuine title-contending machine, they would make a formidable pair.
That’s why it’s strange Ferrari appears to be dragging its feet. You can understand why it might want to keep its driver-market options open in case something better comes along and there are some very appealing alternatives who will be on the market for 2025 anyway, hence the apparent desire only to offer a short-term new deal for Sainz rather than the longer-term stability he craves and the willingness to draw out the process.
Sainz's desire for stability doesn't necessarily mean he needs a five-year mega contract - it seems probable that a traditional ‘2+1’ deal (two years and an option) would work for him and that should work for Ferrari, too. While there are tempting options elsewhere who might become available, it would be risky to lose a driver who offers so much for the team.
What’s more, he has viable alternatives. Stake is known to be pursuing him and the Sauber-run, soon-to-be-Audi operation would doubtless offer him big money and a long-term deal that would tick several boxes for Sainz – but unfortunately not the one guaranteeing frontrunning machinery.
He is known to have been casting around elsewhere to explore options, as alternatives can at worst provide some leverage needed to encourage Ferrari to agree a deal.
Staying at Ferrari is his number one choice though. But it's clear that Sainz is not willing to stay there on any terms - and will push for something that will last, give him race-winning machinery and that doubtless rewards him well financially.
It seems this is a game of contractual brinkmanship on both sides, with Sainz and Ferrari keen to continue but the devil lying in the detail. Each needs to be aware that such situations aren’t always resolved as might be expected or hoped for.