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Formula 1

What next for Sainz after Hamilton's Ferrari F1 bombshell?

by Ben Anderson
6 min read

Try not to feel too sorry for Carlos Sainz. Yes, Lewis Hamilton has blown his Ferrari career up in spectacular fashion, but in Formula 1, as in life, when one door is slammed shut so another shall open (somewhere).

Especially so if you’re as good an F1 driver as Sainz has become. He’s comfortably within the top 10 best on the grid right now and therefore would be an asset to any team.

It’s also not in Sainz’s own nature to sit around moping. In that respect, you can take his post on social media about him giving his best for one final season in Ferrari red as genuine. 

Sainz is made of stern stuff. He will simply dust himself down, get on with the job and then move on with his life. No hard feelings.

This mentality is necessary when you’ve bounced around teams like Sainz has: Toro Rosso (for almost three seasons), Renault (for one and a bit), McLaren (for two), then Ferrari (this will be his fourth).

He knows how to adapt, and how not to burn bridges on his way out.

The Sainz camp does not exactly seem blindsided by this development with Hamilton and Ferrari. 

They were feeling pretty confident about extending Sainz’s stay with Ferrari on favourable terms heading into the 2023 off-season, and were not exactly enamoured with what they called "bulls***" reports coming out of Italy that there was some kind of misalignment with Maranello during the negotiations.

They felt the only way Sainz’s Ferrari career would be derailed would be something monumental like F1’s most successful driver making a blockbuster decision to exit as early as possible the new Mercedes contract he agreed to only six months prior.

Ferrari’s feeling it might snare Hamilton explains perfectly why the Sainz contract situation suddenly became so opaque. It’s also something Sainz himself will perfectly understand. If Ferrari has a straight choice between signing Lewis Hamilton for 2025 or resigning Carlos Sainz, it’s no contest really.

Sainz will land on his feet somewhere. He’s simply too good a driver not to.

If the car requires a tendency to understeer, he’s probably one of the best out there - which also applies in mixed or wet conditions.

In the dry, Sainz is giving away a tenth or two to Charles Leclerc - when Leclerc is at his best in a car, set-up ‘on the nose’, that he likes.

There’s no shame in that either - Leclerc is one of the very fastest F1 drivers on the grid; the most talented Sebastian Vettel said he’s ever seen.

Sainz could walk into any F1 team and feel confident he would do a very good job for them. And the fact his Ferrari exit has been decided on February 1st, and not in, say, September (or later), is very good news. It means he has time to plan ahead.

When Sainz was swept up in the unfortunate political wrangling between Red Bull and Renault in 2018 - Renault wanted to sign him permanently but Red Bull wouldn’t release Sainz without receiving a hefty fee - the Sainz camp plotted their options on a whiteboard, and worked out their best route to a more secure F1 future was to make an ultimately successful play to take Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren seat for 2019.

Back then, Sainz’s stock was lower and his options more limited. Now, thanks to a very respectable stint with Ferrari in which he has become a two-time race winner, he most likely jumps to the front of F1’s 2025 driver market queue when it opens for business.

As things stand, only Max Verstappen, Hamilton, Leclerc, George Russell, Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri have confirmed contracts for 2025, so the only places Sainz definitely can’t end up (unless there are more bombshells to come!) are Ferrari and McLaren.

It's tempting to consider him a contender for a straight swap with Hamilton at Mercedes, although Toto Wolff seems keen to get Andrea Kimi Antonelli ready to slot in alongside Russell basically as soon as possible, and perhaps would have replaced Hamilton with the young Mercedes prodigy in either 2025 or 2026 anyway - so at the absolute most you're looking at being a stop-gap solution for Hamilton's early departure.

It makes sense for Sainz also to take a close look at Sergio Perez's Red Bull seat. There is almost certainly going to be change there for 2025, and Sainz would likely be a more effective team-mate to Verstappen than any driver currently on Red Bull's roster, but Sainz would also have to expect to receive 'number two' status at F1's best team if he moved there.

Maybe a move to Aston Martin makes sense - either in place of his hero Fernando Alonso (if Alonso decides to stop at the end of 2024), or in a Spanish superteam alongside Alonso if Lance Stroll/Aston decide he/they have had enough?

Really, Sainz just needs to ask himself what he wants. At the top teams - especially Red Bull - he would be going in as basically a number two driver, but his chances of adding more wins and podiums to his tally in the short term would be higher.

Further down the grid, he can probably safely rule out places like Williams or Haas as being too much of a step back - competitively and financially - even if those teams would love to have someone of his talent and experience.

A return to Alpine/Renault, even though both incumbent drivers could potentially depart at the end of 2024, seems like a stretch too.

It can’t be ruled out, but it's doubtful Alpine would be near the top of Sainz’s own list of options. That team looks perennially unconvincing as the new rules cycle of 2026 rushes towards us. 

That will play a big role in Sainz’s thinking, because wherever he ends up needs to take proper consideration of the 2026 landscape too. 

Will Red Bull Powertrains be Red Bull’s undoing? 

Does Hamilton’s clear vote of no confidence suggest Mercedes is actually stuck in a potentially irreversible decline? 

Does Aston Martin actually have what it takes to develop its way into the top group of teams, and will Honda be any good without Red Bull as a partner?

Looking longer term, maybe the fledgling works Audi project will be Sainz’s best bet. 

We know there's already firm interest there.

Andreas Seidl and James Key are familiar to Sainz from his McLaren days.

Audi has set aggressive targets to make the Sauber team successful again under the new rules set.

And joining Stake for 2025 would give Sainz a year’s grace to prepare fully to become Audi’s lead driver from 2026 onwards.

The prospect of being Audi’s ‘franchise’ driver, having spent so much of his F1 career so far being perhaps the most effective number two driver out there, could well be more alluring to Sainz than trying to snap up occasional race victories in Verstappen’s wake, or trying to knock Russell off his new team-leader pedestal at Mercedes.

It will be a year of big decisions regardless for Sainz, but wherever he ends up he is bound to be an asset. So again, try not to feel too sorry for him - he certainly won't be feeling sorry for himself.

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