Why Sainz is suddenly on Red Bull’s radar for 2025 F1 seat

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Outgoing Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz has emerged as an option for Red Bull’s second seat in Formula 1 next season.

Sainz is seeing out his final year at Ferrari after being dumped over the winter in favour of Lewis Hamilton for 2025, despite being the only non-Red Bull driver to win an F1 race in 18 months or so, and as it stands is still unemployed for next year.

He was also in need of surgery during the second race weekend of 2024, yet returned from that to end Max Verstappen’s early season domination with victory in Australia two weeks later – which is also the first time someone other than Verstappen has won a grand prix since Sainz in Singapore last year.

Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner joked that Sainz “appears to be our nemesis”. But now he appears to be on Horner’s radar after the team boss hinted at having an interest, and went out of his way to drop that hint.

RED BULL’S ALTERNATIVES AREN’T IMPRESSING

The Australian GP was a bad weekend for the main contenders to be Verstappen’s 2025 team-mate.

Incumbent driver Sergio Perez’s strong start to the year came to a disappointing halt at the worst possible time for Red Bull given Verstappen retired from the grand prix, while his primary opponent Daniel Ricciardo had a terrible home event for the second Red Bull team.

Ricciardo’s team-mate Yuki Tsunoda was excellent, though, scoring RB’s first points of the season. In a just world he’d be more of a candidate for Red Bull Racing than he seems to have any chance of being, but this is where Sainz comes in.

HORNER BRINGS SAINZ INTO THE MIX

Horner was asked after the Melbourne race if Tsunoda’s being overlooked and turned that into a suggestion that Sainz could be an option.

“Yuki’s a very quick driver,” said Horner. “We know that.

“But we want to field the best pairing that we can at Red Bull Racing and sometimes you’ve got to look outside the pool as well.

“You’ve had a very fast unemployed driver win the race so the market is reasonably fluid with certain drivers.”

The hint was obvious. So Horner was asked: would you take Sainz back?

“Based on a performance like that, you couldn’t rule any possibility out.”

It would be negligent for any team with a 2025 vacancy, including Red Bull, not to consider signing Sainz. That goes for Mercedes, Aston Martin, the soon-to-be-Audi team that has chased Sainz for some time – everybody.

Horner’s demand is that Red Bull fields “the best pairing we can”. Sainz would be an upgrade on Perez and is a more convincing alternative than Ricciardo or Tsunoda.

He’s a very good driver who was underrated by many outside the F1 paddock – and more than a few in it – when Ferrari picked him to replace Sebastian Vettel in 2021. Intelligent, hard-working, wonderfully adaptable and faster than you think, he’s performed well against Verstappen as rookies at Toro Rosso, Lando Norris at McLaren and now Charles Leclerc at Ferrari.

IS SAINZ UNDERRATED?

The Race asked Norris and Leclerc about Sainz’s reputation following his victory, and whether he is underrated. They made it clear that inside the paddock, at least to those paying attention, Sainz is valued highly.

“Everybody knows Carlos’ worth in the paddock,” Leclerc said. “He’s one of the highest-rated drivers in the paddock.

“He’s been extremely strong every time he was in a Formula 1 car. And he has showed it multiple times.

“So, I don’t think he’s underrated for that. I think everybody knows Carlos’ worth. And that’s why I’ve said many times that I’m not too worried about his future.

“I’m sure that many team principals are – he doesn’t say it! – but for sure they are speaking with him! And I’m sure he will have many opportunities and he’ll just have to make the best choice for his career.”

Norris, who spent the first two seasons of his F1 career alongside Sainz at McLaren and is friends with him away from the track, agreed Sainz was highly rated by “the people who know him, know what he’s capable of doing, know his effort level, his approach and dedication to wanting to be one of the best, exactly like he’s proved today, and over the last couple of weeks”.

“For the people who know what he’s capable of doing, you would never ever say he’s underrated,” said Norris.

“Of course, results are always a bit of a point to show and people on the outside just easily judge things from what you see on TV.

“But when you’ve worked with him, when you know what he’s capable of doing, and when things click, they click very well and he has performances like he does this weekend.

“I would say all year, he’s proved to be a step up from what he has been last year.

“You’re silly if you underrate him.”

It’s probably the slightly underwhelming year-and-a-bit at Renault, after Sainz forced an exit from the Red Bull family on his own terms, that has coloured people’s opinions of him a little. And he maybe misses the last fraction of pace to be a consistently mega qualifying threat.

But he is a formidable all-round driver who has proven that at his peak he can compare very well to some of the most highly rated stars in F1.

BUT COULD THERE BE FRICTION?

One potential hurdle for a Red Bull return is the circumstances of his time alongside Verstappen as rookies at Toro Rosso. 

There was a lot of tension, though not exactly between the two drivers, as their fathers Carlos Sainz Sr and Jos Verstappen are big fixtures in their careers. And the respective entourages ended up creating a quite toxic atmosphere – to paraphrase Red Bull motorsport adviser Helmut Marko.

That might not be something Red Bull is keen to revisit. And there are some close to Sainz who suspect Max Verstappen wouldn’t welcome it either, maybe because it risks being disruptive, and maybe because Sainz is too good to be the kind of easily beaten number two driver that Verstappen’s enjoyed since Ricciardo left at the end of 2018.

But in pure performance terms Sainz must be under consideration. And if not by Red Bull then by others, having reminded everybody not just how good he is, but just how adept he is at being in the right place at the right time.

SAINZ’S TAKE

“It does no harm,” Sainz said of the win for proving a point to watching team principals. “That is 100%.

“I’m still without a job for next year. So I guess this is going to help it.

“I think everyone knows more or less what I’m capable of doing.

“I do race for myself. I race to keep proving to myself that I can win whenever I get a competitive car and whenever there’s an opportunity to win in a weekend.

“I don’t race to prove to team principals or to prove to people my value. I race to prove to myself that if I’m given a car, I can get it done and I can be up there.

“That’s the mentality and the approach that I have and I will keep having the rest of the year.”

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