until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

How Williams complicates Sainz's post-Ferrari dilemma

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

Carlos Sainz’s choice of where to go after he leaves Ferrari at the end of 2024 is more complicated given how Williams has stepped up its persistent interest.

Williams’s pursuit of Sainz is not the sudden development it has been made to seem as the Monaco Grand Prix weekend started, as it has been months in the making already.

As previously reported by The Race, Williams outlined its long-term plans to Sainz a while ago now and Vowles has continued to make compelling pitches.

But it was widely considered to be a wildcard option for Sainz, who was expected by almost everybody to join the Audi project at Sauber should his bid to hold out for a possible Red Bull seat prove futile.

What Williams has done through its perseverance though is manoeuvred itself more impressively than first thought. Sainz is taking the option seriously.

Williams is not on the same level as Haas and Alpine. Both are not discounted by his management and there have been conversations. But that is just due diligence; Williams is more than that.

Reading between the lines, negotiations are believed to have even evolved to the point of offer and counter-offer: with Williams coming up with something considered satisfactory by Sainz.

This is important for two reasons. First, to sign a driver, it’s obviously crucial to present a deal they are willing to accept. But second, it shows Sainz that Williams is serious about him, has the resources to back that seriousness up, and the commitment to go through with it.

But any financial reward is very much a second-order priority to Sainz picking a team that is the best fit for his needs.

He wants a race-winning car but if he ends up a serious Williams prospect that will be because he cannot get in one. Then it becomes about other factors: belief in a project, the right environment, and a commitment of suitable duration.

That final point could be quite important. Audi is a works team keen to lock Sainz down for the long-term, at least three years. A two-year Williams deal with an option for a third on Sainz’s side would give more flexibility if he wants the option to leave for 2027 as seats open up elsewhere and the pecking order in the new 2026 rules era becomes clear.

That could be a massive advantage for Williams, which would then be backing itself to prove to Sainz it is worth staying with for longer.

The curious thing about Sainz’s two main options is that they are both largely dependent on hypothetical progress. The potential trajectories are encouraging - and Audi’s ceiling as a works team is higher than Williams’s - but both teams are mired in problems.

Williams is fractionally less worse off but neither has scored a point in 2024. It’s not an enviable choice for a multiple grand prix winner to have to make for their next move.

So, Williams complicates matters. If it was just Audi in the picture, then Sainz would be dealing with a simpler scenario. Sauber’s not ideal, but the impending Audi era makes it a high-upside fallback. You take what you can get.

Williams seems to be unexpectedly giving him a serious choice to make between two projects with big question marks and a long list of slightly different pros and cons. Audi has enough of the latter as a new engine manufacturer and a company taking over a struggling existing team for the door to at least be open to Williams swooping in.

Vowles is a big reason for that. He’s already been key to re-signing Alex Albon on a multi-year deal and is why a Williams team that is performing worse than 12 months ago is escaping with relatively little scrutiny beyond a lot of coverage about the myriad, extraordinary details of various aspects of its awful 2024.

For now, Vowles is getting the benefit of the doubt because of the long-term malaise he is trying to permanently rescue Williams from, and the many problems the team is known to have from its facilities through to its culture. He speaks well, fronts up to problems, and has clear ideas for solutions.

That might eventually amount to nothing more than talking a good game. But time must be afforded to find out - Albon’s willing to give him that, and clearly Sainz is open to the idea for discussions to have gone this far.

What is unclear is where the limit is to the goodwill towards Vowles and the Dorilton vision. There is a big difference between it being compelling enough to take seriously and being worth committing to.

Sainz may decide that the clouds over Williams are too great to be impressed by the silver lining. It will depend on his gut feeling, what fits him best now and for the period he is willing to be locked into what will - one way or another - be a marriage of convenience.

But until that decision is made, it is impressive that Williams has made a strong enough case to not just stay in contention but to position itself as Sainz’s main alternative to an Audi move that so many think is all but a done deal.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks