Former F1 driver Marc Surer believes that while Carlos Sainz may be destined for Audi long-term, Mercedes could be his perfect destination for the years when Audi are getting up to speed.
Audi are set to join the Formula 1 grid in 2026 as Sauber morphs into the works team for the automotive giant, with Sainz, whose father recently claimed an iconic victory with the brand in their final Dakar Rally, strongly linked with joining the outfit.
However, Sainz has a crucial career decision to make before 2026, following the bombshell announcement that seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton will replace him at Ferrari from the start of the 2025 season.
Mercedes the ideal stop-gap team for Carlos Sainz and vice versa
While Audi will enter the F1 scene carrying high expectations, technical director James Key has admitted that they will not be the “final product” until 2027.
Surer is also of the belief that Audi will need time to hit their stride, so with Mercedes on the lookout for a Hamilton replacement, Surer believes Sainz and Mercedes could be the ideal match.
“If things go normally, they [Audi] won’t win races in the first year,” Surer told Formel.de. “That’s why I think Sainz is looking at where he can bridge the time.
“I think it’s in his genes that he wants to go to Audi for the long term. Everyone says: ‘The Audi thing will work out at some point.’ But not in the first two years. That’s why I think he could be a temporary solution for Mercedes. He would be cut from the right cloth for Mercedes.
“He can win races. He is the only one to have won a race in 2023 as a non-Red Bull man. This must not be forgotten. He’s capable of winning races.”
Sainz could also be the perfect solution for Mercedes with an eye to long-term options, as their junior team houses arguably the hottest prospect out there in 17-year-old Andrea Kimi Antonelli, who has been hoovering up the titles and goes from Formula Regional European Champion straight to Formula 2 for 2024.
But, while signing Sainz could give Mercedes a few more years to prepare Antonelli, should Sainz’s eventual destination be Audi, Antonelli has nonetheless been credited with a chance of going straight into the Mercedes line-up as Hamilton’s replacement if he impresses in his rookie F2 campaign.
Team boss Toto Wolff though has made it clear that there are no positives to heaping such pressure on the youngster.
“Kimi’s been with Mercedes since he was 11,” Wolff told assembled media, including PlanetF1.com’s Thomas Maher, in the wake of Lewis Hamilton’s confirmed departure.
“He’s been in the junior programme, and his junior career was very successful.
“I think what’s most important at this stage is that he concentrates on F2.
“If we start to spin his mind or unleash rumours in the media onto him, that’s not going to help his F2 campaign.
“He’s just stepped out of karts a few years ago and he’s not even 18. So I would rather not start any speculation about Kimi going into Formula 1 at that stage.”
Antonelli will line-up for Prema in F2, where his team-mate will be fellow title hopeful, Ferrari Driver Academy star Oliver Bearman.