Sauber eyes different drivers for Audi F1 future

Fri, 8 March 2024, 08:00

Mar.8 (GMM) Mere hours after reports broke that Audi has completed a 100 percent acquisition of the Sauber team, rumours about the drivers began to swirl in Saudi Arabia.

Even Germany’s biggest newspaper Bild is following the story, revealing that both Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu Zhou are out of contract at the end of 2024 – and perhaps out of favour within the team.

“Extensions cannot be ruled out,” said correspondent Michel Milewski, “but both the Finn and the Chinese have not been able to convince across the board recently.”

With uncertainty about Audi’s involvement no longer a factor, Sauber is apparently now looking confidently into the future – and eyeing not only the official works rebranding for 2026, but also the driver lineup for the next few seasons.

And with the 2024 season now underway, Bottas and Zhou are yet to impress team bosses so far, ahead of what will be one of the most tumultuous ‘silly seasons’ in years, as the contracts of 13 active racers also expire.

Team representative Alessandro Alunni Bravi admitted in Saudi Arabia: “With the cars all so close together, I’m from the old guard in believing that the driver must make the difference in qualifying.

“And if we don’t manage to start in better positions, it will be difficult to reach the points,” he told Sky Italia. “In Bahrain, (Nico) Hulkenberg and (Alex) Albon were able to make this difference.

“It is up to us to give our drivers a car that is easier to drive in qualifying, but our two drivers also need to do more,” the Italian added.

Another driver in Sauber-Audi’s sights is 2025 Ferrari refugee Carlos Sainz, whose famous rallying father is already part of Audi’s racing family.

“Sainz is a great driver,” said Bravi, “and for 2025 and 2026 we need to reflect and understand what the best combination of drivers is for us.

“So it’s not just for next season but also afterwards, because as we know, our future is Audi. We will talk to our drivers,” he added, “and the first objective is to give them a better performing car so that they can express themselves well.

“We will then look at all the opportunities on the market.”

Bottas, 34, won 10 grands prix at Mercedes prior to his move to Sauber, and he has made no secret that his “priority” is being signed up for the 2026 Audi project.

He said at Jeddah that he is pushing Sauber to get into a more ambitious mindset.

“We just can’t have the mindset that we can be satisfied with certain results,” said the Finn, who qualified P16 and finished P19 and a lap down in Bahrain a week ago.

“We can’t accept that the result last weekend is where we are. We always need to try for more,” Bottas insisted.

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