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Formula 1

What Sainz/Lawson revelations mean for Red Bull's 2025 F1 seats

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

Red Bull is in discussions with outgoing Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz about a 2025 Formula 1 seat as it navigates a complex scenario for its two teams that involves needing to find a drive for Liam Lawson.

The line-ups for the two Red Bull F1 teams have been the subject of constant speculation this season, with even world champion Max Verstappen’s future at Red Bull Racing questioned at times.

It is the identity of his 2025 team-mate, though, and who will drive for Red Bull's second team that pose the bigger unknowns.

Incumbent Red Bull Racing driver Sergio Perez has made a strong case for being retained for a fifth season with an impressive start to 2024, although Red Bull’s other contracted drivers – Daniel Ricciardo, Yuki Tsunoda and Lawson – are all theoretically contenders to join Verstappen next year.

Ricciardo started the year perceived as Perez’s biggest threat but his underwhelming form at RB against Tsunoda means the focus there is more on whether Ricciardo keeps his current seat, let alone snipes for Perez’s.

It had previously been hinted that former Red Bull junior and Toro Rosso driver Sainz was back on Red Bull’s radar given he is being replaced by Lewis Hamilton at Ferrari for 2025.

Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko has now revealed that there have been initial talks but said Sainz’s best offer currently comes from Audi, which is taking over the Sauber team ahead of its works entry to F1 in 2026 and has courted Sainz for the past year.

"We are speaking with him, he is driving his best season in Formula 1,” Marko told regional Austrian newspaper Kleine Zeitung.

“But he has a lucrative offer from Audi, which we cannot match or beat."

Sainz would be an excellent recruit for Red Bull given he has proven himself as a multiple race winner at Ferrari, where he has performed well against Charles Leclerc.

He also compared favourably to Verstappen when the two were rookie team-mates at Toro Rosso in 2015, then beat a young Lando Norris at McLaren after a mildly disappointing short Renault stint alongside Nico Hulkenberg.

There were tensions at Toro Rosso, but these were related more to Verstappen’s father Jos and Carlos Sainz Sr rather than exclusively the drivers, who have a good relationship now.

It has been speculated that Sainz has agreed to join Mercedes, swapping seats with Hamilton, but while both parties are an option to each other that is far from the truth.

Sainz wants a long-term option, which Mercedes cannot really offer with its prodigy Kimi Antonelli already racing in Formula 2 and regarded as its preferred choice for its 2025 vacancy, and Sainz would probably not have that kind of security at Red Bull either.

That is why Audi, while a step down given Sauber is struggling in the lower part of the midfield, is widely considered his likely destination, although Sainz insists that all the vacancies are “viable” options.

“You can understand that we've been talking to every team, and every team is every team,” Sainz said about his negotiations.

“It all depends on the compromises of the offers and what everyone offers. There's very good options out there, which makes me still smile and be positive about my future.

“At the same time, I know some of those options don't fully depend on me, it depends on some people taking decisions, which means I need to wait in a way and keep doing what I'm doing.

“Things will hopefully be designed sooner rather than later, and if later it's still good, I'll be happy to wait.”

Any potential concern about recruiting Sainz also needs to be judged alongside Perez making such a good case for being kept on.

Marko said this is clearly Perez’s best season for Red Bull and called him “certainly the best option for 2025” if these performances continue.

Longer-term, Red Bull remains interested in McLaren pairing Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, but both are under contract until the end of 2026 at the earliest.

Given issues with its junior programme in recent years Red Bull’s priority should be developing its own talent to fill its two teams in the coming seasons.

Finding Lawson a full-time F1 seat would help alleviate the problem in the short-term and Marko has partly confirmed a long-held suspicion in the F1 paddock: that Red Bull has promised Lawson a 2025 race seat after parking him as a reserve this year.

Lawson performed strongly as Ricciardo’s substitute for five races last season when Ricciardo injured his hand on only the third weekend of his F1 comeback.

In the end, Red Bull kept Ricciardo and Tsunoda in the second team, with Ricciardo backed by Red Bull team boss Christian Horner in particular and Tsunoda the highest-performing driver and also financially supported by team partner Honda.

Marko is a fan of Lawson though and clearly wants to find him a seat sooner rather than later. At the same time, he has said Ricciardo’s fallen short of the requirement to be “clearly faster” than Tsunoda to “have hope of a Red Bull seat”.

Asked if there could be another mid-season change like the one that ousted Nyck de Vries last year and brought Ricciardo back onto the grid in the first place, Marko said: “We obviously have in Liam Lawson as reserve driver a strong driver in the team, who is contractually free to race for another team if he doesn't get a seat with us in 2025.

“In this regard it would of course be exciting for us if we could see him already in F1 this year, to give ourselves an even clearer picture.

“But this is a complex topic, one must wait and see how it goes.”

It has been the belief in the F1 paddock since last year that Lawson accepted the Red Bull/RB reserve driver role for 2024 on the condition he would get a race seat in 2025.

This means that even if Red Bull does not pursue Sainz any further for the senior team, at the very least it faces the prospect of dropping at least one of its current drivers sooner or later.

On current form Tsunoda would have to be kept on at RB, leaving it a straight choice between Ricciardo and Lawson for the other seat – whether that be during this year or for 2025.

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