As the Formula 1 world anticipates the significant transformation set for 2026, questions swirl around the future of Charles Leclerc. Autosport.com editor Matt Kew has weighed in, asserting that Audi appears to be the most suitable destination for Leclerc, should he choose to depart from Ferrari, considering the current landscape of driver contracts in Formula 1.
However, a crucial question looms large – is it a sensible move for Leclerc to join a team that faces challenges in its engine development schedule?
In 2026, Formula 1 is poised for a monumental shift, particularly in the realm of power units. The new regulations mandate a blend of internal combustion and electric power, ushering in a new era for the sport. Notably, Audi is set to make its debut as a factory team, collaborating with Sauber to equip their cars with an innovative Audi power unit.
With limited options for existing drivers as many contracts approach expiration by the close of 2024, Leclerc finds himself at a crossroads. Ferrari, his current team, has discussed a potential contract extension but remained tight-lipped, fueling speculation that the partnership could come to an end.
So, what alternatives does Charles Leclerc have? According to Kew, a viable option could be the McLaren Racing team, but only if Lando Norris vacates his seat by switching to Red Bull. In the absence of that scenario, Audi emerges as a plausible choice.
Nonetheless, Kew points out a significant hurdle – Audi lags “months behind” Red Bull and Mercedes in the development of the 2026 power unit. This raises concerns about whether Leclerc should take the risk of joining Audi in its current state.
“I asked myself this question by looking at the alternatives.
“So, if and when [Lewis] Hamilton retires, I think Mercedes, based on current form, is more likely to go for Lando Norris. However, perhaps there is a turn of events where Lando Norris goes to Red Bull to partner Max Verstappen.
“Depending on how those play out, McLaren, upwardly mobile at the minute, is an option for Leclerc, but I don’t see Red Bull or Mercedes going for Leclerc as a driver and I think that’s because he is rapid, and his racecraft is good, but I think he’s in a category ever so slightly below Verstappen and Russell.
“As like a naturally talented driver, I don’t think he’s quite a level for them in terms of intellect and how that can drive the team forward.
“So then you look at the alternatives, which is maybe a mega payday at Sauber/Audi. Well, what you hear about them…you look at Sauber, they’re finally operating at the cost cap now they’ve had some investment from Ingolstadt, but they’ve made zero progress this season.
“And the rumours are Audi are months behind Red Bull Powertrains, months behind Mercedes with the 2026 engine regs, so basically, that’s not a competitive step forward.
“So, maybe you are better off staying at Ferrari just for a dearth of alternative opportunities.”’
When Matt Kew was asked about Leclerc’s 2025 prospects on the GP Racing podcast, he made a compelling case for staying with Ferrari. Considering the ongoing season, Ferrari stands out as the only team aside from Red Bull to have secured a Grand Prix victory. This indicates that Ferrari possesses the competitive edge and potential that Leclerc could continue to harness.