London — Spaniard Carlos Sainz is on pole position to be Charles Leclerc’s teammate at Ferrari in 2021, with Australian Daniel Ricciardo set to replace him at McLaren, according to Formula One sources.
One source said there could be an announcement by the end of the week, with reports in Spain and Italy saying talks between McLaren’s Sainz and Ferrari were at an advanced stage.
There was also speculation that Spain’s double world champion, Fernando Alonso, who left Formula One at the end of 2018, could make a comeback with Renault, the team he won his titles with in 2005 and 2006.
“I see a scenario which is Sainz to Ferrari, Ricciardo to McLaren, and then that leaves a seat at Renault that probably would be Alonso,” said former F1 driver and Sky Sports television pundit Martin Brundle.
The driver merry-go-round was triggered by Ferrari’s announcement on Tuesday that four times world champion Sebastian Vettel would be leaving at the end of 2020.
Vettel’s future remains uncertain, with retirement a possibility. “What’s been happening in these past few months has led many of us to reflect on what are our real priorities in life,” the German said in Ferrari’s statement.
The 2020 championship has yet to start due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with countries in lockdown and drivers dispersed around the world.
Sainz, who made his F1 debut with the Italy-based Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso team, is in Spain. Ricciardo went to his family’s farm near Perth after the Australian Grand Prix was cancelled in March.
Both Sainz, 25, and 30-year-old Ricciardo are out of contract at the end of 2020.
There was no immediate comment from Ferrari, McLaren or Renault.
Ricciardo moved to Renault from Red Bull last season, knowing that the French manufacturer team was a work in progress, after McLaren also made an approach.
Winner of seven grands prix for Red Bull, his best result with Renault to date is fourth place and he has been keeping his options open.
“Everyone knows how this sport works. If another team calls, I’m not going to block the call or anything. I’ll answer it and listen to what they have to say,” Ricciardo said in February.
Sainz was sixth overall in 2019, behind only the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, but has yet to win a grand prix. His third place in Brazil in 2019 was McLaren’s first podium finish since 2014.