F1 slump has come at worst time for Audi’s key 2025 target

There is now only one team without a points on the Formula 1 grid for 2024, and it happens to be the team that was unable to secure the most competitive freestyle driver for 2025.

With Red Bull recommitting to Sergio Perez and Mercedes still favoring the promotion of teenage protégé Kimi Antonelli, three-time Formula 1 winner Carlos Sainz faces a choice between Sauber and Williams for 2025.

And it's pretty clear that the slowest team in Monaco couldn't have been worse timing for the soon-to-be Audi works team.

Valtteri Bottas was four-tenths of a second behind the next car in qualifying and his teammate Zhou Guanyu was another half-second behind.

Only Fernando Alonso's top-speed management (to create a gap for Aston Martin teammate Lance Stroll to stop and get out) saved Sauber from a truly embarrassing Sunday with Bottas at least managing to hold on respectably in 13th.

But make no mistake, Sauber, in terms of the relatively new F1 midfield so close in 2024, was off the pace.

This certainly could not escape Sainz's attention.

What went wrong?

Perhaps the most troubling element of the weekend was that the team had no idea why things were going wrong.

Now the circumstances did not help Sauber. After an “encouraging” first practice session, the car was forced due to unspecified problems to return the new rear wing it brought to Monaco to participate in the second practice session.

These problems were fixed in FP3, but then Bottas crashed his Sauber after three-quarters of a lap that looked positive, eliminating Sauber's strongest-performing driver from almost the entire session.

This inevitably had a negative impact on qualifying and Cho struggled for confidence throughout the weekend. Although Sauber experimented with “different setups”, it couldn't find one that gave it enough confidence to be more than just a contender either.

“Right now, it's a bit difficult to draw conclusions about where we would be if we ran normally [without the practice issues]“But we need to analyze again at the factory,” Sauber head of track engineering Xevi Pujolar said over the weekend.

“We know that in low-speed corners generally we are fine but this track is more specific, it's not just low speed, it's low speed combined with many other parameters and factors.”

Valtteri Bottas Sauber Monaco Grand Prix 2024

Pujolar denied that this all indicated a problem with Sauber's connection between the wind tunnel and the track, saying: “With the parts we received, [what was expected]This is what we had. This is not a problem.”

It is clear that there will be extensive work in Hinwil to diagnose Monaco's own problems, and in isolation, Monaco could be written off as an outlier.

But the truth is that Monaco was simply the most intimidating chapter in a difficult season in which Sauber had the slowest car by a significant margin according to Formula 1's super times (calculated by recording each team's fastest lap during a Grand Prix weekend), the first time that failed. In which he registered in the first eight races since 2016.

Uncomfortable contradiction

So it looks like Williams vs. Sauber/Audi over Sainz's services in 2025 is much less clear-cut than it seemed a few months ago.

Why would Sainz reject a manufacturer with a proven track record in almost every series it competes in in favor of a Williams team that was struggling so much earlier in 2024 that it could only field one car in the Australian Grand Prix?

The long-term picture is certainly in Audi's favor but if Sauber's short-term situation looks so bad, will that be enough to dissuade Sainz?

Carlos Sainz

Sainz always knew joining Sauber would mean some pain in the short term, but he probably didn't think the team would suffer. this Big pain after eight rounds of 2024.

There is a lot of work to do after Sauber has yet to show any real sustained evidence of relative development gains since the rather impressive start of the new F1 regulations being put in place in 2022.

Audi's investment – something it has been increasing year on year – will help combat this but will not transform the F1 brand overnight.

Moving away from a race-winning Ferrari to a non-points Sauber will be a pill for Sainz to swallow.

But surely joining Williams for 2025 will be the same?

Well, there's a case for more short-term optimism in Williams. He scored his first points in Monaco to leave Sauber the only team still at zero, with a prime target area that could make gains.

The Williams team is still overweight and has lost as much as 0.45 laps through the 15kg weight disadvantage the FW46 started the year with.

But the light ground at Imola is starting to fade, and team boss James Vowles promised: “We have a lot of performance on the way, and our job is to deliver that as quickly as possible now.”

It's easy to make that claim, yes, but Williams has a proven track record of adding performance to this generation of cars.

Even its only major upgrade of the season last year (introduced at the Canadian Grand Prix) was crucial to Williams' win over the AlphaTauri team which was enjoying a strong finish at the time to take seventh place in the Constructors' Championship.

Williams scored 27 of its 28 points last year after being promoted to Canada. By contrast, Sauber (then still carrying the Alfa Romeo brand) had won just six of the last 15 races.

Williams Alfa Romeo F1 2023

If she can make further progress in the weight disadvantage, Williams can hope to make similar progress this year.

Not to the point where Williams becomes a necessary short-term option for Sainz – it is Still Top 10 fringe cars on their best weekend. But to the point where it looks like a team, with a motivated leader in Vowles, that has some real momentum behind it – certainly more positive than the momentum behind Sauber at the moment.

This is important for 2026 as well. Volz has long put that at the heart of his long-term planning, and having a Mercedes engine for his client – which is probably as sure a bet as any 2026 engine to be competitive based on track record – only adds to that.

Audi is arguably the biggest risk for 2026 with a technical team that has produced the slowest car for 2024 and one of only two completely new engine manufacturers (in Formula 1) alongside Red Bull Powertrains.

Rescue mission

Sauber Monaco Grand Prix 2024

Sauber and Audi can still salvage things. It has the manufacturer's trump card that Williams can't offer. She has a chance in Montreal this weekend to prove she can also make progress.

“[We’ll bring] “Another small step but every small step matters, so let's hope we can close the gap now,” Pujolar said.

“We've now got Williams with some points and it should be our turn in Montreal.”

There's a reason Sauber is optimistic: although Montreal has a lot of long straights, it has a lot of slow corners where Sauber was relatively strong, and a few fast corners where it was weaker.

In fact, Sauber still sees itself in the battle for sixth place in the Constructors' Championship, even if the battle becomes tougher every weekend.

“I think so, yeah, in terms of performance, I don’t think anyone is far enough out of reach,” Pujolar answered when The Race asked if the current sixth-placed right-backs were still within striking distance this year.

“Regarding the points, at the moment we still believe that is also possible but definitely every time [RB scores] It becomes more of a challenge.

“But in terms of performance, everything is tight enough that it will fluctuate at some point. That's what we're trying to achieve.”

Sauber proving it can catch up and compete with the likes of RB this year is arguably as important as its final championship position. This will provide a clue to Sainz as to how much work he still needs to do and what he can expect in year one if he joins Audi. Sainz will back himself to do better than the current Sauber drivers anyway.

The team has already proven at least that it can put its early-season pit stop woes behind it, having debuted new equipment at Imola with good success. The Monaco GP stops (2.51 seconds and 2.56 seconds) were the fastest of the entire season so far.

for this reason He should The job needs to be done on that front, even if it remains an embarrassing blemish on their season.

The most important thing is to add performance to the car and soon. Sainz has not made his decision yet, but once he does he will commit quickly.

Audi won't stop selling its long-term image, but Sauber has to improve its bleak image in the short to medium term or it risks losing a valuable piece of the 2025 puzzle.


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