Bottas and Zhou on thin ice: Sauber shake-up for Audi looming

Hours after the bombshell news about Audi’s unexpected 100 percent acquisition of Sauber, the F1 world is abuzz with speculation about the future of its current drivers, Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu Zhou. Reports highlight that both drivers’ contracts are set to conclude at the end of 2024, casting shadows over their continuance with the team.

Michel Milewski of Germany’s leading newspaper Bild drops a significant hint, stating, “Extensions cannot be ruled out,” yet adds a caveat, “but both the Finn and the Chinese have not been able to convince across the board recently.” This statement alone has fueled intense speculation about the duo’s fate within the newly Audi-branded team.

As Sauber turns a new page with Audi’s full-fledged entry, the focus isn’t just on rebranding for 2026 but also on assembling a competitive driver lineup for the more immediate seasons ahead. The 2024 season, already in motion, hasn’t seen Bottas and Zhou making the desired impact, further intensifying the scrutiny as they navigate what promises to be an unpredictable ‘silly season.’

Sauber’s team representative Alessandro Alunni Bravi shared his perspective from Saudi Arabia, emphasizing the critical role of drivers in the team’s success, “With the cars all so close together, I’m from the old guard in believing that the driver must make the difference in qualifying.” He further pointed out, “And if we don’t manage to start in better positions, it will be difficult to reach the points. “In Bahrain, (Nico) Hulkenberg and (Alex) Albon were able to make this difference.”

Bravi adds a layer of responsibility to both the team and its drivers, “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.”

Amidst the swirling rumours, Carlos Sainz emerges as a potential key player for Sauber’s Audi-led future, with his rallying legend father already linked to the Audi racing family. Bravi doesn’t shy away from acknowledging Sainz’s prowess, “Sainz is a great driver,” and outlines the strategic considerations for the team’s future, “and for 2025 and 2026 we need to reflect and understand what the best combination of drivers is for us.” He underscores the long-term vision, “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,” while emphasizing the priority of enhancing car performance, “and the first objective is to give them a better performing car so that they can express themselves well.”

The strategy moving forward involves improving the car and “we will then look at all the opportunities on the market.”

Bottas, with a history of 10 grand prix wins under his belt at Mercedes before joining Sauber, is clear about his aspirations, viewing his future with Audi as a “priority.” Reflecting on the team’s mindset, he advocates for ambition, “We just can’t have the mindset that we can be satisfied with certain results,” referring to his performance in Bahrain, “We can’t accept that the result last weekend is where we are. We always need to try for more,” Bottas insists, signaling his commitment to pushing the team forward.

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