Four drivers rumoured to be on Audi’s ‘unofficial shortlist’ if ‘dream’ target is not secured

Oliver Harden
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Audi will officially arrive in F1 in 2026 after taking over the existing Sauber team

Four drivers are on Audi F1’s ‘unofficial shortlist’ of targets to partner Nico Hulkenberg if Sauber are unable to persuade Carlos Sainz to sign for the F1 2025 season, local media has claimed.

Audi’s preparations for their highly anticipated F1 2026 entry are ramping up, with the German manufacturer making their first splash in the driver market last month by announcing the signing of Hulkenberg from Haas.

Audi’s emergency F1 2025 shortlist if Carlos Sainz unavailable

However, the identity of Hulkenberg’s F1 2025 team-mate is yet to be confirmed with neither of Sauber‘s current drivers, Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu, likely to be retained as it stands.

Reports emerged on Monday that Bottas is understood to be close to a return to Williams for F1 2025 after being spotted meeting team principal James Vowles over the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix weekend.

The Finn began his F1 career with Williams back in 2013, before being promoted to Mercedes following Nico Rosberg’s retirement at the end of 2016.

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Audi, meanwhile, have been heavily linked with a move for Sainz – who will make way for Lewis Hamilton at Ferrari at the end of this season – with long-term Red Bull adviser Helmut Marko revealing last month that Audi have offered the Spaniard a “very lucrative” three-year contract.

Sauber team boss Alessandro Alunni Bravi confirmed Audi’s interest in Sainz at the recent Miami Grand Prix, admitting that “everybody would like to have Carlos on board” but insisting that the team have “several options” available for F1 2025.

Having enjoyed his best-ever start to a season in F1 2024, however, collecting his third career victory at the Australian Grand Prix, Sainz is believed to be stalling on Audi’s offer in the hope of attracting a team with more immediate victory prospects, including Red Bull and Mercedes.

Sergio Perez is currently in the final year of his existing Red Bull contract, while rumours persist that three-time World Champion Max Verstappen could be lured away by Mercedes amid the apparent so-called ‘power struggle’ behind the scenes at Red Bull.

A move to Mercedes for Sainz, meanwhile, would see him complete a direct seat swap with seven-time World Champion Hamilton.

With a move for Sainz hanging in the balance, a report from Swiss-German organisation Blick has claimed that Audi have drawn up a list of alternative targets for F1 2025.

Alpine drivers Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon, as well as RB star Yuki Tsunoda and Aston Martin reserve Felipe Drugovich, are said to be the four names in contention.

Gasly and Ocon, who are both out of contract at the end of F1 2024, have both been linked with moves away from Alpine following the team’s dreadful start to the new season, which has seen the Enstone-based squad register just one point across the first seven races.

Both drivers have spoken of the need to assess their options for next season, with Ocon telling media including PlanetF1.com’s Thomas Maher at Imola that he is keen to have his future resolved as soon as possible, having been scarred by the experience of being forced to spend a year on the sidelines in 2019 after losing his Force India seat.

Both Gasly and Ocon have race-winning experience, having claimed their only career victories to date at Italy 2020 and Hungary 2021 respectively.

After an inconsistent start to his F1 career with Red Bull’s junior team, meanwhile, Tsunoda has emerged as one of the standout drivers of the F1 2024 season, collecting 15 of RB’s 20 points to date to guide the team to sixth in the Constructors’ standings.

Despite his links to Red Bull’s current engine partner Honda, Tsunoda hinted at the Emilia Romagna GP that he could leave RB having attracted interest from rival teams.

Speaking to media including PlanetF1.com at Imola, Tsunoda claimed he has not yet “heard anything” from Red Bull about a new deal, teasing that he could be tempted to leave if he receives a “really interesting offer.”

Tsunoda’s potential exit could allow RB to promote highly rated reserve driver Liam Lawson alongside Daniel Ricciardo, whose performances has stabilised over recent weeks following a challenging start to the new season.

Marko revealed last month that a clause in Lawson’s contract will allow him to leave the Red Bull system if he is not offered a full-time seat for F1 2025, having impressed in a five-race spell last season as a substitute for the injured Ricciardo.

Drugovich has struggled to force his way on to the F1 grid despite winning the prestigious F2 (previously GP2) title in 2022, with the Brazilian participating in two FP1 sessions for Aston Martin last season.

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