Where could Alonso-Aston deal leave Sainz in 2025 F1 market?

Why a contract extension was a 'simple' decision for Fernando Alonso (1:18)

Nate Saunders analyses Fernando Alonso's decision to extend his contract with Aston Martin. (1:18)

Fernando Alonso's decision to stick with Aston Martin until at least 2026 closed one door for fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz, who remains the biggest free agent in Formula One after the announcement earlier this year that his seat at Ferrari will go to Lewis Hamilton in 2025.

It's quite a remarkable situation for a man who is one of F1's most in-form drivers, the only competitor to beat Red Bull to a race win since November 2022. The biggest compliment to Sainz's performances compared with those of teammate Charles Leclerc is that the question has been raised of whether Ferrari has binned the wrong driver for next year.

Aston Martin was clearly an option that interested Sainz. Team owner Lawrence Stroll has invested heavily in the project and has ambitions to turn the team into world champions in the near future. Sainz has shown in the past two seasons that he is a talent worthy of a car that can challenge for a championship, and Aston might well be that in 2026, when it takes the Honda supply of engines that have powered Red Bull to its current run of titles.

Stroll's determination to leave son Lance Stroll in the other seat regardless of results has limited Aston Martin's options at a time it could realistically have formed a superteam of Sainz and Alonso, eliminating the chance of what would have been a brilliant long-term option. With Aston now out of the equation, Sainz's options appear to have whittled down to two or three, although it's difficult to see a clear destination at this stage.

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Red Bull

This would be a dream move for any driver, given Red Bull's dominance of F1 right now. Sainz has clearly been on Red Bull's radar, with team boss Christian Horner admitting as much after seeing the Ferrari man win the Australian Grand Prix. Sainz was cut adrift by the Red Bull programme midway through 2017 having never featured for the senior team, something that still grates on him today.

Joining Red Bull at the moment means partnering Max Verstappen, who has become perhaps the biggest teammate killer in F1 history. Last year one agent told ESPN that the deck is stacked against any driver who races at Red Bull while Verstappen is there given how the team has been built around the Dutchman, and understandably so given his generational talent and success. Sources with knowledge of the situation say this is not something Sainz is worried about, having proved at Ferrari his ability to step up when viewed by many as the second best of two drivers.

This option seemed a lot stronger for Sainz (and Alonso) when Verstappen was hinting at leaving the team last month. That prospect fizzled out in the weeks after the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix as Red Bull walked itself back from the brink of implosion. Multiple sources have told ESPN that there is a belief in some quarters of the paddock that Verstappen might still look to leave ahead of 2026 if fears over Red Bull's upcoming engine project intensify in the next 12 months. Were that to happen, joining Red Bull now would have obvious benefits down the line.

A problem for Sainz here is that Sergio Pérez has stepped up in a big way this year, finishing second at three of the opening four races. It is the solid form that Red Bull waited patiently for Pérez to recapture for much of 2023 as he spiralled from the Miami Grand Prix onward. After Red Bull's one-two at Suzuka, Horner said Red Bull's priority now is re-signing Pérez to an extension and it seems like only an absolute disaster run of results would stop that from happening now. Pérez is well liked within the Red Bull operation and is considered easy to work with, having accepted his role at the team is not to challenge Verstappen for a drivers' championship but to instead be a solid wingman. It is hard to see a driver like Sainz, at a different stage of his career to Pérez, accepting the same reality.

Despite his form, Sainz appears to have slipped behind Pérez on Red Bull's wish list. Daniel Ricciardo's poor start to the season has ended any talk of him stepping up from junior RB team, while Horner is still not convinced the red-hot Yuki Tsunoda would be the right fit alongside Verstappen. When you're winning, sometimes playing it safe is the best option, and Pérez represents this in a nutshell, especially amid turmoil within Red Bull in the past few months. Sources with knowledge of the situation have pointed out another year for Pérez would also allow Red Bull to pursue Alex Albon when his Williams contract expires at the end of 2025.


Sauber is an underwhelming option on the surface given its failure to do anything of note for a while now, but everything at the Swiss team is geared toward the incoming Audi project that begins in 2026. Current driver pairing Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu are far from certain to continue into 2025 with the team. Sainz is in the frame for a move here, although there is obvious trepidation about Sauber going forward. Audi appears to be coming into a difficult situation and faces an uphill battle as it inherits a team with an infrastructure years behind many of F1's biggest outfits.

Sources with knowledge of the situation have told ESPN that Sainz was impressed by Audi's recent commitment to taking over 100% of the Sauber entity, having previously only pledged an investment for 25%. This might have made the idea of joining Sauber in 2025 easier to stomach, and could clear a quicker path to being a winning team from 2026 onward. Audi has already started building its F1 operation and brought in Andreas Seidl, who worked with Sainz at McLaren, as CEO. However, the prevailing feeling in the paddock is the deck is still stacked against Audi in terms of being immediately competitive.

Audi clearly has big ambitions, though, and has pedigree from other motor racing disciplines. The German manufacturer was lured into F1 by the sport's new engine regulations set for 2026 and wants a big-name driver to lead the team into an exciting new era of the company's racing history. As a grand prix winner and as one of F1's most popular drivers right now, Sainz would be an obvious fit. The company also has close links to Sainz's father, Carlos Sainz Sr., from his Dakar Rally programme.

The risk presented by Sauber is that, after what will almost certainly be a difficult 2025 as the team enters a transition year, what if Audi then has a slow and underwhelming start to life in F1? As teams like Alpine have demonstrated, it can be difficult to get out of a funk in this series. If and when Audi got its project in the right place, the shine may well and truly have gone from Sainz in a sport where you can be flavour of the month one minute and a candidate for the scrapheap the next.


Sainz's choices have not been helped by Mercedes boss Toto Wolff's steadfast commitment to the company's F2 wunderkind, Italian teenager Andrea Kimi Antonelli.

Sources have told ESPN that conversations did take place between Mercedes and Alonso, as the Spaniard suggested as much after his new Aston deal was announced on Thursday, but they never progressed into anything substantial. With Antonelli in the wings, Mercedes was only interested in signing Alonso to a one-year contract, which the two-time world champion was not interested in when he had a multiyear option on offer at Aston.

Antonelli, who turns 18 in August, is clearly a big risk for Mercedes, but there's some logic to his candidacy. Wolff is still stung by what happened in 2014 when he had a young Verstappen in the palm of his hands, only for Helmut Marko and Red Bull to swoop in late and offer him something Mercedes could not: a ready-made seat in the junior team then known as Toro Rosso. The recent example of Alpine inexplicably letting Oscar Piastri walk to McLaren has only strengthened Wolff's determination not to let history repeat itself.

Multiple sources from other teams have expressed surprise and confusion that Wolff has tied himself to the Antonelli option, although several others have said Oliver Bearman's impressive performance as Sainz's stand-in at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix reinforced his belief that backing a young driver is the right course of action. Despite the prospect of a comeback generating headlines ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix, multiple sources with knowledge of the situation have dismissed the prospect of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel returning to F1 with Mercedes as close to impossible.

Sainz ending up with the Silver Arrows can't be discounted entirely, though. There's a scenario in which Antonelli goes to Williams -- a Mercedes customer team fronted by former Mercedes motorsport strategy director James Vowles -- for a couple of years of seasoning before being promoted into the full works team. That would follow the trail blazed by George Russell, who spent three years in Grove before moving to Brackley.

If that were to happen, a shorter deal for Sainz would be a strong possibility, likely with some built-in leeway in case Verstappen does look for a new team for 2026. Leaving Suzuka this week, though, Mercedes felt like one of the weaker options for Sainz.


One left-field option might be Williams, which has big ambitions to reestablish itself as a team in the top half of the order. Its growing pains have been obvious lately as Vowles has battled to improve resources across the board, but the former Mercedes man and owners Dorilton Capital are determined to turn Williams back into a competitive entity. While everyone wants to see the team back in that kind of shape, how long that will realistically take is a fair question in the modern F1 landscape.

For Williams, Sainz would make sense given that Logan Sargeant has done nothing to prove he has a long-term future in F1, and with Red Bull seemingly keen to bring Albon back into the fold in 2026. Sainz would help Vowles future-proof his driver lineup with another top talent, although like Sauber, it represents a roll of the dice at this stage for the Australian Grand Prix winner.