Horner: Sainz can’t be ruled out for 2025 Red Bull F1 seat as they aim to “field the best pairing”

Photo Credit: Red Bull Content Pool
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Daniel Ricciardo’s shaky start to the season has raised questions about his competitiveness—particularly as a new potential candidate for the coveted Red Bull seat has emerged in Carlos Sainz.

Three races into a pivotal season, and Ricciardo isn’t exactly making a strong case for himself. Currently 3-0 down on his RB teammate Yuki Tsunoda in qualifying, Ricciardo has also been failing to impress on race day. 

After a disappointing showing at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Ricciardo arrived at his home race in Australia looking for a redemption drive. Instead, he qualified a lowly eighteenth after having his laptime deleted for a track limits violation, and only managed to recover to a lapped 12th on Sunday. Tsunoda, meanwhile, qualified an impressive eighth and went one better in the race to finish 7th, bagging much-needed points for RB. 

Worryingly, Ricciardo doesn’t appear to have a clear answer for his middling performance, insisting that it’s not a case of not being confident or comfortable in the car. 

For now, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner is still willing to give Ricciardo the benefit of the doubt, saying, “Obviously, he’s had a tough weekend. I haven’t really looked at his race, but it looked like he had pretty similar pace to Yuki in the race.

“He had a tough day yesterday, getting that [qualifying] lap disallowed. So I just want to give him a bit of encouragement.

“He’s a big boy, he’ll pick himself up. But sometimes being a Formula 1 driver can be a bit lonely so a bit of encouragement is never a bad thing.”

Asked whether Ricciardo’s performance so far has impacted his chances of being promoted to Red Bull, Horner simply said it’s “still very early in the year to even be thinking about next year.”

Despite having the edge on Ricciardo, Tsunoda never really seemed to have been framed as a serious candidate to partner Verstappen. Instead, Horner made it clear that Red Bull is keeping their options open. 

“Look, Yuki’s a very quick driver. We know that. 

“But we want to field the best pairing that we can at Red Bull Racing and sometimes you’ve got to look outside the pool as well.

“You’ve had a very fast unemployed driver win today’s race so the market is reasonably fluid with certain drivers.”

A Verstappen-Sainz lineup would be a reunion in its own right, as both drivers are products of the Red Bull junior programme and were teammates for a time at Toro Rosso. Sainz made his debut with the team in 2015, remaining there until he joined Renault—on loan from Red Bull—for the final four races of 2017 and the entirety of the 2018 season. He then moved to McLaren for 2019, severing ties with the Red Bull family.

Photo credit: Red Bull Content Pool

Horner admitted he’s not ruling out the possibility of bringing Sainz back into the fold—but clarified that Red Bull is in no rush to make a decision regarding their 2025 lineup just yet.

“Based on a performance like that, you couldn’t rule any possibility out.”

Verstappen’s race-ending mechanical issue and Sainz’s subsequent victory in Melbourne broke Red Bull’s winning streak for the first time since last year’s Singapore Grand Prix—which ironically was also won by Sainz after an uncharacteristically poor weekend from Red Bull—prompting Horner to jokingly refer to Sainz as their “nemesis.” 

“I think you just want to take the time,” Horner continued. “Obviously, Checo was compromised today. He’s had a great start to the season too. So we’re not in any desperate rush.”