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Outside Line: Did Ferrari ditch the wrong Charlie?


In the aftermath of the 2024 Australian Grand Prix, I am still amazed by Carlos Sainz, Mr Smooth Operator just gets better and better as his famous victory in Melbourne testifies, part of an unbelievable storyline only our sport can conjure.

Consider this: Sainz, a driver who has been ditched by the biggest team in F1, to replace him with the sport’s biggest star of the past two decades – Lewis Hamilton – to partner Ferrari’s homegrown Charles Leclerc. Leaving the Spaniard without a job come the end of the season.

At the opening race of the year in Bahrain, Sainz ‘thanked’ the Reds by beating Leclerc and claiming a podium behind the dominant Red Bulls. A week later, in Jeddah, his appendix required removal forcing him out of the race but not the Ferrari pit garage from where he watched F1’s latest ‘Star is Born’ Oliver Bearman make his mark.

Two weeks later, tummy bandaged where his appendix is no more, Sainz goes on to beat Leclerc in Qualy, then in the race again and win it for Ferrari. So incredulous, you couldn’t script it!

Surely unemployed Sainz won’t be jobless for much longer as right now his shares are soaring and the guy deserves a winning car. But where will he find that for 2025 is question number one? To start, obviosuly scratch Ferrari off the list.

Talk of Sainz Junior heading up the Audi F1 project has been rife. Andreas Seidl is overseeing the transformation of Sauber to Audi. They worked together at McLaren, and admiration and respect appear to be mutual.

What about a straight swap for Mercedes? Carlos for Lewis?

Sainz: I would've done the same in Hamilton's position

However, even at a glance, the sh!tsh0w that Sauber Kick Stake F1 team is at the moment, even with highly-rated former BMW, Porsche and McLaren man supposedly in charge the team is a shambles. Why would a top driver like Sainz go there?

In contrast to Sauber’s oblivion, swapping Sainz for Ferrari-bound Hamilton makes sense in every way for Mercedes. He would be the ideal teammate to measure George Russell, who is getting the better his seven-time F1 World Champion teammate who might be on the wane.

Is Hamilton still at his very best? We will find out with Leclerc in 2025. Is Russell as good as Sainz? That would be good to know. However, is Mercedes in its current (no light at the end of the tunnel) state of bad performance a good place to go?

Relative to the Mightiest F1 Team Ever which Merc was not too long ago, Toto Wolff’s team is hardly a magnet for a driver wanting to win races. Something the sport’s most prolific winner, Hamilton has not done with them since 2021. And again appears to have timed his departure right, as he did before McLaren sunk all those years ago.

With Lance Stroll apparently super-glued to one Aston Martin seat, it’s hard to see Fernando Alonso getting booted out. McLaren has too young guys signed until they are old. The other F1 teams (Sauber included) are sad to say cr@p right now.

That leaves Red Bull for Sainz!


Although I am in the camp that believes Sergio Perez is doing as good a job as any teammate will do against Verstappen, I would admit 29-year-old Sainz is an all-around better prospect than the 34-year-old Mexican, both on current form and his age.

If The Verstappens are crazy (stupid?) enough to walk away from the F1 World Champion team, as some are reporting, they will be in crisis because Yuki Tsunoda and, even less so Daniel Ricciardo, are not deserving of that drive. Sainz would be their perfect fit.

He also covers both bases for Christian Horner’s team: Should Max stay they have the hottest duo in the sport right now as teammates. Should Max go, at least they have Sainz.

Throw into that, Helmut Marko’s respect for and insight earlier this year is worth recalling: “Sainz is undoubtedly a great driver. He was almost on a par with Max at Toro Rosso but he was unlucky enough to be Verstappen’s teammate.

“The atmosphere between the two of them was pretty toxic. And the way the team was structured at the time, I didn’t see any possibility of keeping him with us, so he first moved to Renault before driving for McLaren and finally ending up at Ferrari.”

Marko: Sainz was very fast in the junior classes

Carlos Sainz is Toro Rosso driver for 2015

“In his first Formula 1 test at Silverstone,” Marko recalled. “He was a little faster in the fast corners than Sebastian Vettel, whose times served as a benchmark for us at the time. He was almost on the same level as Verstappen, but only almost, and when we had the choice between him and Max, it was clear what we had to choose,” revealed Marko.

Now, almost a decade later. Sainz and Verstappen are very different men. F1 saw them grow from kids to what they are today, arguably the best of their generation. One imagines that maturity, experience and common would make for a very different dynamic to when they were teens at Toro Rosso. It might even work.

In closing, although I am not a Ferrari fan I have deep admiration for its chequered history in motorsport. If I were a die-hard Tifosi I would be torn between my heart and my brain.

The ol’ softy heart says Leclerc is a good choice to partner Hamilton because he is very fast, a very nice chap,  ‘homegrown’ in the Maranello FDA garden and the romance that goes with that. However a niggle in my no-BS brain would edge it towards Sainz.

That’s why I reckon that when Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur gives it some thought, he may be asking the

Big Question: Did Ferrari ditch the wrong Charlie?