‘Pain’ for Audi’s top target as F1 2026 driver shortlist revealed by local media

Oliver Harden
A studio image of Audi's F1 showcar

A studio image of Audi's F1 showcar

Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg are the two names at the top of Audi’s driver shortlist for F1 2026, local media has claimed.

But the Swiss-based team face a “complicated” challenge to convince Sainz to take a year of “pain” with Sauber in 2025 ahead of Audi’s highly anticipated F1 entry.

Carlos Sainz, Nico Hulkenberg top of Audi’s F1 2026 driver shortlist

After Fernando Alonso signed a multi-year contract to remain with Aston Martin on Thursday, Sainz has emerged as the most in-demand driver for 2025 after losing his Ferrari seat to Lewis Hamilton.

Sainz has been heavily linked with a move to Sauber for 2025 ahead of Audi’s arrival the following year, with rumours indicating the Spaniard is facing a deadline of the end of this month to accept the team’s proposal.

Multiple reports in Italy on Friday, meanwhile, claimed Sainz is close to agreeing a deal with Mercedes to replace Hamilton next year, having produced his best-ever start to a season in 2024.

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And a report by Swiss-German publication Blick has claimed Audi are not giving up hope of signing Sainz, with Haas driver Hulkenberg also placed high on the team’s wishlist.

The report claims both of Sauber’s current drivers, Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu, are likely to be dropped by the team at the end of 2024 as the Hinwil outfit look to the future.

Hulkenberg, who previously spent a single season with Sauber in 2013, has shone since returning to F1 with Haas in 2023 after a three-year absence.

The 36-year-old was “already on the verge of returning” to Sauber three years ago before the team opted to sign the well-funded Zhou, before again being linked with a move back to the team in the closing weeks of last season.

Hulkenberg is regarded as the more easily attainable of the pair, with negotiations to persuade Sainz to join the team set to be more complex.

Despite “good connections” between Audi and the Sainz family, the prospect of dropping down to one of the slowest cars on the grid for 2025 is said to be a “painful” one of Sainz, the only non-Red Bull driver to win a race since the start of the 2023 season.

Sainz and Hulkenberg previously spent a year as team-mates at Renault across 2017/18.

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