With only seats at Formula 1’s lower-end outfits up for grabs, the conflict between drivers wanting flexibility and teams craving a long-term commitment is coming to the fore.

Carlos Sainz remains the blocker that holds up the entire market, with a decision between Sauber/Audi and Williams complicated by an eleventh-hour lunge by Alpine advisor Flavio Briatore. That prompted Sainz to ask for a delay, which has not gone down particularly well at Williams.

The Spaniard is in the market with fellow F1 race winners Esteban Ocon and Valtteri Bottas, who are all vying for the open seats at Audi, Williams, Alpine and Haas. Bottas’ team-mate Zhou Guanyu is also hopeful Sainz’s decision might open up a slot for him, although he looks to be one driver on the bubble right now.

Sainz’s dithering is caused by none of the three options looking the most attractive coming from a race-winning seat at Ferrari and, with him wanting flexibility so he can still change teams once it becomes clear who has hit the target with the 2026 regulations, a flexibility that most big-name drivers have no doubt baked into their contracts.

But with Audi, Williams and Alpine all looking for loyalty and for a long-term commitment as they turn around their teams’ fortunes, drivers who are willing to sign up for the long haul are starting to become more attractive than Sainz.

For Audi that long-term partnership is even more important, as it knows it might not hit the ground running with its work power units from the start of the 2026 regulations, so it needs a patient mindset from whoever joins Nico Hulkenberg.

“If it was an easy situation for everybody, we would have closed the drivers’ market already in February,” Sauber team representative Alessandro Alunni Bravi said.

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“From the driver side, everyone would like to see what happens in 2026, and the teams want to secure the stability in the long term and not change the drivers.

“We have always said we want to start in 2025 with the driver line-up that will be the Audi works factory team drivers line-up. We don’t want to change after one year, it’s important for us.

“We put on the table who we are, where we want to be and what we are doing to reach this target. Of course, there is a journey to be done together.

“We need to be happy to do this journey, including ups and downs, especially in the first period, but no one should underestimate the impact of Audi will have in Formula 1 in 2026.”

For someone like Bottas, who is keen to secure his long-term future as soon as possible, that common ground might help him secure a seat at Audi or elsewhere, even if he hasn’t been the first name on the list to fill any of the remaining seats.

“I hope so,” he said. “I’ve made sure in the talks that I want clear goals for the years ahead, a clear project that I can be part of and work for it together.

“I’m ready to commit and I’ve got my priorities in order. I hope that puts me in a strong position.”