After Carlos Sainz’s Mercedes denial, why does his future remain an enigma?

Carlos Sainz was a mainstay on the podium in his first three rounds of the 2024 F1 season and won a grand prix but has finished behind Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc ever since

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Ferrari swinging the axe on Carlos Sainz‘s career in scarlet must have stung, but the Spaniard at least had the consolation of being the belle of the Formula 1 driver market ball ahead of 2025.

Sainz‘s future team largely remains a mystery almost four months later, but there is a creeping feeling that the momentum of earlier in the season is already dissipating somewhat ahead of the 2024 Canadian Grand Prix.

After the initial public outrage at the perceived unfairness of his effective sacking, Sainz responded with a storming start to 2024 that even appendicitis couldn’t halt, including an irrepressible Australian GP win as part of three podiums in his opening three races.

Mercedes are now off the table for Sainz according to Sky Sports F1 while Audi are reportedly demanding an answer by the end of May, as the Spaniard’s been beaten by teammate Charles Leclerc in six races on the spin.

“No, I cannot confirm it, sorry” Sainz told select members of the press, including Total-Motorsport.com regarding the Sky Sports report.

And when pressed on whether he’s worried about missing out on the right opportunities, Sainz said to F1TV: “Yes but that’s why behind the scenes I know more than you guys, you have the rumours and everything but don’t worry, I’m not going to let anything slip.

“I’m just going to put all the options on the table and take the right decision. I can just tell you that once I’ve made my mind up everything will happen very quickly and it’s all about putting everything together what I feel like I need on my next new contract.”

Over half of the 2025 F1 grid remains unconfirmed with vacancies officially open at Red Bull, Mercedes, Aston Martin, RB, Haas, Alpine, Williams and Sauber who will become Audi in 2026. The F1 world appears to be Sainz‘s oyster – so why doesn’t it feel like it?

Max Verstappen is the next domino

Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz of Ferrari after qualifying ahead of the 2024 Miami Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz of Ferrari after qualifying ahead of the 2024 Miami GP | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Lewis Hamilton declared the 2025 driver market open with quite a bang, but while Fernando Alonso, Alex Albon and Nico Hulkenberg‘s announcements have kept things ticking over, Max Verstappen is the man who could detonate it all.

It remains to be seen whether he’ll continue at Red Bull next season or crucially in 2026 and beyond – or whether he’ll switch to Mercedes who are believed to have a stronger power unit in the new regulations despite currently lying in the doldrums.

Indeed, that engine was also a factor in Albon committing his long-term future to Williams who will continue their partnership with Brixworth in 2026, while the Silver Arrows won’t make a move until they know if they can sign the most coveted driver in the sport.

But Toto Wolff‘s Verstappen guilt doesn’t help Sainz very much. Yes, Andrea Kimi Antonelli looks destined to race for Mercedes in future, but when that is (and who he races alongside) remain giant question marks as he gets to grips with his Formula 2 rookie season having taken the almost unprecedented step of skipping F3.

Either Red Bull or Mercedes would surely be standout candidates for Sainz, especially compared to the unknown quantity of Audi, but committing to either of them is also a risk given the uncertainties over just how long they’d be willing to return the favour.

And for his part, Sainz brushed off the notion that his future depends on other, bigger driver moves, saying: “I think everyone depends on everyone. F1 is a circle and I haven’t made my mind up yet and I don’t know where I’ll be racing next year, I also haven’t set any deadlines

“I can just tell you that for such an important decision at this stage of my career I want to have all the options on the table, pick the right one and think about it carefully because I’m about to turn 30 this year and the next project is one that I really want to make it work so I’m going to give myself as much time as I need.”

Will the real Carlos please stand up

Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso), Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull), Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari), Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) and Felipe Massa (Williams) face the Monza media ahead of the 2015 Italian GP | Charles Coates/Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Even 10 seasons and almost 200 races in Sainz‘s F1 career, there’s still an air of mystery about just what exactly his next employer is getting.

The 2024 season has been the perfect illustration of the dichotomy of the champion’s son, as Sainz responded to the outside noise in resounding style on track and was the driver to capitalise on the rare opportunity of a Verstappen DNF, but followed that up with three anonymous weekends.

Most F1 drivers are fairly known quantity a season or two after their first transfer. Leclerc and George Russell (or Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo before them) jumped from the back to the front of the grid and established themselves in the top echelon of grand prix racing while Albon, Sergio Perez and Pierre Gasly couldn’t enjoy the same success and have never been viewed the same by the general racing public since.

However, Sainz sits in a strange middle ground after a career that’s seen success with McLaren and Ferrari follow initial failure at Toro Rosso and Renault.

A driver who’s won teammate battles against Leclerc and Lando Norris but lost one to Hulkenberg, and is at his best when fuelled by emotion.

Established at a top team having held his own against the perceived leader and scored multiple race victories yet not trusted with that status himself and probably never viewed as a standout candidate to win a world championship.

It’s arguably a similar profile to Nico Rosberg who did score one world title (though in a two-horse race, employing virtually every hook and crook known to F1) and certainly not one to be sniffed at. But it’s also a reputation that simply doesn’t have the top teams lining up for an autograph.

Since the 2023 Belgian GP, Leclerc has finished in the top four of every race he’s finished bar one. Sainz can’t match that but has been a mainstay in the top six over the same spell and scored two wins to Leclerc‘s duck (up until Monaco), illustrating the arguments for both the Spaniard’s detractors and supporters.

Apparently not good enough to lead the best teams but able to lead the F1 pack, perhaps it’s apt that the mystery of Carlos Sainz‘s future reflects the enigma of the driver himself.

Adam Dickinson
An international multi-award-winning journalist, Adam Dickinson has written for Total-Motorsport.com since June 2022 and also contributes to TNT Sports, Eurosport and the Rugby Paper. He's also had articles published in the Daily Telegraph and several local newspapers, previously worked for Last-Lap.co.uk and FeederSeries.net in motorsport, and graduated with a First-Class Journalism Degree from the University of Sheffield having also studied in Oklahoma. Adam started watching F1 by accident in 2007, catching the last race in Indianapolis, and attended his first race as a journalist at the 2023 British Grand Prix.
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