Will Sainz sign new 2025 deal soon, or risk holding out for top seat?


Sainz's waiting game; Vettel return rumours look slim; Williams' bad luck continues; and an F1 dream come true. Chris Medland's diary from the 2024 Japanese GP paddock

Carlos Sainz Red Bull Helmut Marko 2024 Japanese Grand Prix

Could Sainz be Red Bull bound in 2025?

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A familiar place at an unfamiliar time, there weren’t many in the Formula 1 paddock unhappy at having to make another trip to Suzuka just six months after the last visit. And even if it was a return to Red Bull dominance, there were plenty of other talking points in the paddock.


The driver market is moving quickly

Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari are very much the catalysts for this one, after agreeing and announcing the seven-time world champion’s blockbuster move to Maranello in 2025 before this season had even started.

That left the two unexpected scenarios of a vacancy at Mercedes and Carlos Sainz looking for a seat, and it is not as simple as the two solving those issues by pairing up.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has already stated he wants to take his time before making a final call on who will replace Hamilton (more on that later), while Red Bull theoretically has a seat available too with Sergio Perez not under contract beyond this year. But like Mercedes, that is unlikely to be a decision that is rushed.

Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz 2024 Japanese Grand Prix Red Bull Ferrari

Where will Perez (left) and Sainz (right) race in 2025 and beyond?

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But other teams are more eager to secure their line-ups, knowing there are so many potential options on the table at present. Aston Martin and Audi appear to be the two most in a hurry based on discussions up and down the paddock, and Sainz is believed to be nearing a decision himself.

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The fear for the Spaniard — as well as the majority of other drivers who are out of contract next year — is that by waiting to see how things develop at either Mercedes or Red Bull, then the stronger seats that are currently open will be finalised. And with the uncertainty surrounding the front-runners, then it would leave a number of far less desirable destinations (for next season at least).

Driver managers appear to be far more willing to speak at the moment as they try and piece together all of the different moving parts of the market to understand which options are likely to disappear first, but the overarching impression is that there are very few certainties in terms of top targets, given the potential changes brought about by the 2026 regulations.

Sainz currently looks like being one of the earliest to go, allowing him to focus on his final season at Ferrari with a settled future, and capitalising on his stock being high right now. But that could come with the risk of ruling himself out of two of the best seats still available.


Vettel’s hopes are slim

One of those two seats has seen Sebastian Vettel linked with it in recent days, after the four-time world champion appeared on multiple news outlets — with the aim of promoting a new energy drink — and spoke about the temptation of returning to Formula 1.

Vettel was open and honest about his interest in the Porsche Hypercar after testing the 963 at Aragon recently, and admitted he chats to Toto Wolff, as well as many other team principals, about his planned projects and future.

That led to Hamilton speaking about what a great option he thinks Vettel would be for Mercedes, but the reality is the German does not top the team’s list. Although Wolff states “Sebastian is someone that you can never discount”, the team is still fully invested in Andrea Kimi Antonelli.

Kimi Antonelli in F2 shakedown with Prema in 2024

Despite his F2 struggles, Antonelli could still be the top pick for Mercedes in 2025

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The exciting Italian teenager’s first Formula 2 season has not got off to the smoothest of starts so far, but he has still shown flashes of his potential and Mercedes wants to see how he would perform in F1 machinery. A first test at the Red Bull Ring next week will see him drive the W12 — the 2021 car — because Wolff jokes Mercedes “want to give him a feeling of what a really good car feels like before we put him in the ’22!”

That joke also shows he’ll be stepping up into the current generation of car at some point this year as well, and if he shows the promise that the team spotted at an extremely young age, then Antonelli is likely to remain above Vettel on Mercedes’ wish list.


Vowles starting to rue his luck

Let’s just firstly make it clear that the reason Williams finds itself in the position of having no spare chassis is because of the changes that have been introduced by James Vowles since he took over as team principal.

Vowles admits it himself that he has been trying to change processes that have stretched the team, but even he was starting to wish for some better fortune come Sunday night in Suzuka.

A team that won’t have a spare chassis before Miami just needed a clean race, so to see Alex Albon ending up under a tyre wall after just three corners was not part of the plan.

Alex Albon crashes at 2024 Japanese Grand Prix

After colliding with RB’s Daniel Ricciardo, Alex Albon crashed ahead of Turn 3 in Suzuka

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Vowles is hopeful the chassis isn’t damaged, but stated that the number of big crashes the team has had — including Logan Sargeant’s in Friday practice — is abnormal. He wouldn’t say it publicly, but he’d rightly look at the example of Alpine, where there also has been no spare chassis over the first four races, as a case where the same risk is being taken but a lack of incidents has meant Bruno Famin’s team avoided the same level of scrutiny.

Williams will have a major job back at the factory to produce spares and repair Albon’s car ahead of China, where he is hoping the luck will start to turn.


Preparing for an F1 drive

I got away with a slightly self-indulgent final entry on how much I love Albert Park as a venue last time, and I’m taking it a step further this week with some gloating about one of the coolest things I’ve ever been involved in the planning of.

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Alpine has been amassing ammunition for its drivers to fight back against critical journalists over the past two years, by running a media karting championship for said writers at a few races each season. It’s yet to be used, but I’m sure if either Pierre Gasly or Esteban Ocon felt they were being unfairly criticised, there would be a chance to retaliate with the evidence that some of us don’t have the skills to even contemplate how they drive an F1 car.

But I was lucky enough to win last year’s championship, and the prize is the chance to actually prove I don’t have the skills, as I’m getting to drive the Renault-powered Lotus E20 — the 2012 car that won in Abu Dhabi — at Paul Ricard in May.

Thanks to Ocon’s performance coach Tom Clark, I’m going to be undertaking a little of the training regime that drivers have to go through as well, just to understand how challenging it is to even attempt the fitness programme required.

Two track runs basically marked the official start of my efforts, and already Jack Doohan is mocking my pace. I dread to think of the comments if he sees my onboards…