Esteban Ocon a big contender for the second Audi F1 seat as talks take place

Photo Credit: BWT Alpine F1 Team
Spread the love

Esteban Ocon has emerged as a serious contender for the second Sauber/Audi seat, sources have confirmed to Pit Debrief.

On Friday morning European time, it was confirmed by Haas that Nico Hülkenberg would be leaving team at the end of 2024. Minutes later, Sauber/Audi announced the German driver would be joining them for 2025 on a multi-year deal.

There is a solid chance the 36-year-old will continue racing in F1 into his 40’s.

Could there be a surprise regarding the second seat?

Carlos Sainz has been the favourite to secure a seat with Audi for quite some time now, especially since the news of his departure from Scuderia Ferrari at the end of the 2024 campaign.

His father, four-time Dakar winner and two-time World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz Sr., won the 2024 Dakar Rally in an Audi.

However, the 3-time Grand Prix winner has been consistently talking about discussing his future with multiple teams in public. It’s believed he wants to wait and see what goes on at Red Bull before committing to Sauber/Audi for next year and beyond.

Toto Wolff is keen on either having Kimi Antonelli or Max Verstappen alongside George Russell next year. Should the Austrian pull off a sensational coup and get the three-time World Champion, Antonelli will join Williams if he does not spend a second season in F2. No matter how his 2024 campaign pans out, it seems unlikely he will stay in the category.

With Adrian Newey poised to leave Red Bull Racing, there will be inevitable questions about Verstappen’s future again, even if he has a contract until the end of 2028. Sergio Perez’s future remains unresolved at present.

Audi F1 CEO Andreas Seidl worked with Sainz during his time as McLaren Team Principal and is a known admirer of the Spaniard.

While Sainz remains favourite for now and is the number 1 choice, a new name has emerged as a big contender. Talks are ongoing between Esteban Ocon and Audi, according to sources.

The 27-year-old has been at Renault/Alpine since 2020. There’s been the ultimate high of winning his first Grand Prix at Hungary in 2021.

He also achieved his first F1 podium with the team at the Sakhir Grand Prix in 2020. An outstanding weekend at Monaco last year was rewarded with another P3, too.

But there’s also been far too many lows for such a big team. The A524 is overweight and slow. While progress looks to have been made with the China update, the team is falling way below expectations.

Internal politics and fractions between Enstone and Viry has certainly not helped either.

Nonetheless, Alpine is keen to hold on to Ocon as they look to rebuild following a number of big departures in the last 9 months.

Ocon has started 2024 in tremendous fashion after being narrowly edged out by teammate and fierce rival Pierre Gasly last year. He’s 5-0 up in Grand Prix qualifying — Ocon’s only misfortune is that he has not had a car to compete for points.

Sainz’s limited options

Should the Audi door close, Sainz’s realistic drive for 2025 is taking Ocon’s seat at Alpine if the Frenchman did make the move to Audi.

If Verstappen did make a shock move to Mercedes — and there’s no credible news on that right now — Sainz is likely to become an immediate favourite for that drive.

The Spanish star knows if he joins Sauber/Audi, he could in for a difficult 2025 and beyond that depending on how Audi get on under the new regulations initially. He would be reunited with Nico Hülkenberg as they were teammates at Renault in the final few races of 2017 and through all of 2018 if he eventually decides to accept Audi’s offer before it could be too late.

Christian Horner is a big fan of Daniel Ricciardo. But the Australian driver would need to go on a serious run of great form to put himself in the reckoning. China was extremely encouraging after a disappointing start to the season in qualifying.

Hülkenberg’s departure leaves Haas in an easy position with Bearman

With the announcement on Friday that Hülkenberg is joining Sauber/Audi on a multi-year deal, Haas will put Oliver Bearman in one of their cars for the 2025 season. Official confirmation should come in the next few weeks.

While the 18-year-old has struggled somewhat so far in Formula 2 this campaign as PREMA has been a little bit slow in adapting to the new cars, the British driver’s outstanding F1 debut in Jeddah to finish P7 in the Ferrari was an exceptional performance.

Bearman also impressed Haas with his performances during his FP1 runs in Mexico and Abu Dhabi last year with the American owned squad.

Kevin Magnussen’s future is looking shaky, however. He has consistently been a step behind Hülkenberg since they became teammates at the start of 2023. The Dane has also picked up 10 penalty points over the last 5 events as his desperation to hang on to his seat has been shown.

The end for Valtteri Bottas? Zhou to Haas?

Barring a big surprise, both Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu will be leaving Sauber at the end of the season as Audi really start to put their own mark on the team ahead of a complete takeover in 2026.

The 10-time Grand Prix winner from Finland has clearly had the edge on his Chinese stablemate since they became teammates in 2022. However, the question of whether other drivers would get more out of the packages Sauber has designed in recent seasons has been a constant thought for many.

It has emerged, however, that Zhou Guanyu is on the list to potentially replace Kevin Magnussen for 2025. Haas has yet to make a final decision, however.