Formula 1: New landing spot emerging for Carlos Sainz Jr.?

Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari, Formula 1 (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari, Formula 1 (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images) /

Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr., who is under contract through 2024, has been linked to Audi once they begin competing in Formula 1 in 2026.

Carlos Sainz Jr. is in his third Formula 1 season with Ferrari since replacing four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel alongside Charles Leclerc in 2021.

Sainz, who beat Lando Norris in both of his seasons at McLaren before joining the Italian team, has been somewhat underrated since making the move. He finished every race in 2021, scoring points in all but two, to beat Leclerc, who had never previously lost to a teammate in Formula 1.

Last year, Sainz scored his first career Formula 1 victory in the British Grand Prix. He earned a career-high nine podium finishes throughout the year en route to a second straight top five finish in the standings. This year, he again finds himself ahead of Leclerc in the standings as the only non-Red Bull race winner through 21 races.

But Sainz’s contract with Ferrari is due to expire at the end of the 2024 season, and given the many issues currently facing the team, him re-signing a deal is far from a sure thing.

The 29-year-old Spaniard has recently been linked to an Audi seat for 2026, with some even considering him to be the “frontrunner”.

Of course, nothing is a sure thing. Look at all the rumors that swirled throughout the 2023 silly season, yet exactly zero changes are set to be made for 2024. But Sainz to Audi makes sense, and it continues to pick up steam.

Sauber announced last year that they will be competing as the Audi factory team with Audi engines starting in 2026, when the German automotive manufacturer enters Formula 1 for the first time amid the introduction of new engine regulations.

Given the fact that many Formula 1 contracts span multiple years, Audi already need to be considering their options for 2026. While there are quite a few drivers who would be logical selections to drive one of the team’s two cars at that time, Audi securing who they want may very well require Sauber to make a move at least a year early.

With an expiring contract after the 2024 Formula 1 season, the move could make be perfect for Carlos Sainz Jr., especially if Ferrari continue to struggle.

Despite finishing ahead of Leclerc in 2021, Sainz knows that Leclerc is the driver whom Ferrari would ideally like to build around, especially after his runner-up finish in the championship a year ago. Even being ahead of him again in 2023 hasn’t changed that perception, as bizarre as that may sound.

If he really wants to give himself the best chance at winning a world title, it may have to come elsewhere.

Changing teams is nothing new for Sainz. The 2023 season is his ninth season in Formula 1, and barring any bizarre changes before the season finale in Abu Dhabi, it will mark only the first time he has spent three full seasons with a single team. The 2024 season would, of course, be year number four in Scuderia red.

He started his career with Toro Rosso in 2015 before moving to Renault prior to the end of the 2017 season. He remained there in 2018 before moving to McLaren in 2019.

Additionally, Andreas Seidl was team principal of McLaren during Sainz’s two-year stint there in 2019 and 2020, and he is now the CEO of Sauber. That familiarity could also play a role in a deal coming to fruition.

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While there are still more than two full seasons to go until the start of the 2026 Formula 1 season, it’s not too early to think about who Audi might sign, and Sainz looks to be as good an option as any at this point, even if the rumors are currently nothing more than rumors.