Two current F1 drivers facing exit as Audi confirm their dream signing

Thomas Maher
Carlos Sainz, Ferrari, 2024 Chinese Grand Prix, with Audi logo.

Carlos Sainz has been heavily linked with the arrival of Audi in F1.

Carlos Sainz is a primary target for Sauber for 2025 and, if they succeed in signing him, it leaves their current two drivers out in the cold.

Before the Miami Grand Prix, Sauber and Audi confirmed the arrival of Nico Hulkenberg for 2025, meaning a door has shut for either Zhou Guanyu or Valtteri Bottas.

Sauber chief: Everybody would like to have Carlos Sainz

With one seat confirmed as Hulkenberg arrives at Sauber ahead of Audi’s takeover in 2026 – the German having signed a two-year deal that will see him through the first year of Audi – the attention is now on the second seat.

With both Zhou and Bottas eager to retain their seat at Hinwil and try to get their feet under the table with Audi, Hulkenberg’s signing means that, for one of them at least, that dream won’t become a reality.

But the possibility is that neither Zhou nor Bottas will stay on with Sauber, if the team are able to tempt the hottest property on the driver market to put pen to paper on a deal.

Following Lewis Hamilton’s departure from Mercedes to join Ferrari in 2025, it’s left Carlos Sainz out in the cold – the Spaniard is one of only two non-Red Bull drivers to win a race since the end of the 2022 season.

Without a contract for 2025, Sainz is in talks and negotiating his future with every team that has an available cockpit, and Sauber/Audi is understood to be a leading prospect.

Sainz also already has some links to Audi due to his famous father Carlos driving for Audi in the Dakar Rally – including a win in the 2024 event.

Last week, Sainz was reported to have missed a deadline that Audi had given him to sign with the team, although PlanetF1.com understands the deadline was the product of media speculation.

The door hasn’t closed on the possibility of a Sainz signing, and Sauber team representative Alessandro Alunni Bravi has come forward to list Sainz’s strengths.

“Everybody knows that there is a top driver that is available in the market, it’s Carlos Sainz,” he told Motorsport.com.

“I think that everybody, you know, would like to have Carlos on board.

“He is one of the best drivers. He shows [himself] to be extremely mature, a good driver to develop the car, to drive the team for the development, but at the same time very consistent, very strong both in qualifying and race. And I think that Ferrari has one of the best pairs of drivers.

“But we know also that the drivers market is not depending just on ourselves. It depends on different factors. And there are many teams that are discussing with drivers. And I think that there are several options for our team.

“And we will evaluate, but now that we announced Nico there is no rush to make this choice. We are still at the very beginning.”

Confirming that Sauber is in talks with Sainz, as well as other drivers, Bravi did offer some hope to his current drivers.

“We are speaking with [Sainz] and other drivers,” he said. “Also with our current drivers.

“But this is why we have no rush because, now, we secured one of the two seats. Now we can have more time. The decision is not an easy one. Because, of course, we have two good drivers that have been with us for three years, that are performing well.

“There is Carlos, there are other drivers, and we need to understand – because here we are taking a decision that is not just impacting 2025 but also the future of the Audi works team.

“So, I would say the duration of the contract, what could be the combination… the driver line-up is important.

It is not just the decision of a single driver. And all the options are on the table, starting from our current two drivers and find [the one] that could fit into the overall project.”

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According to Red Bull’s Helmut Marko, Sainz has already received a “very lucrative offer” from Audi, one which Red Bull can’t match – the Milton Keynes-based squad is also a possibility for the Spaniard, having made his debut in F1 with Red Bull’s junior team, then Toro Rosso.

Of the two existing Sauber drivers, it’s Valtteri Bottas who may be feeling the heat moreso than Zhou – Audi has made a point of emphasising the importance of the Chinese market to it as the manufacturer gears up to enter Formula 1.

Speaking over the weekend in Miami, Valtteri Bottas confirmed he’s not sure what’s coming next for him as he is in discussions with several teams about his future.

“The timing is quite early and a little bit surprising,” he said of Hulkenberg’s signing.

“But the driver market is starting to move, obviously, and it also kind of makes sense. He’s German, and Audi has made it pretty clear that they want a German driver, so it’s all good. Let’s see what happens next.”

Having shown up in Miami only to have a new race engineer assigned to his car as Steven Petrik took over from Alex Chan, Bottas couldn’t say that the change had been made with his blessing and offered some insight into how things, behind the scenes, are changing at Sauber.

“It says that things are changing. You know, there’s change happening,” he said.

“Obviously, some changes are for the long term. I don’t obviously know all the reasons behind every decision that, like I said, is being made. But it just tells that, yeah, change is happening. People are leaving. People are coming in. That’s about it.”

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