Hamilton gives verdict on replacement as Mercedes drop Antonelli hints

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Hamilton gives verdict on replacement as Mercedes drop Antonelli hints

Lewis Hamilton has named Andrea Kimi Antonelli as the driver he would choose to replace him at Mercedes at the end of this year.

Mercedes are yet to decide who will take Hamilton’s seat when the seven-time world champion joins Ferrari in 2025 but 17-year-old Formula 2 driver Antonelli is one of the leading candidates, Sky Sports News understands. Max Verstappen still remains a target for Mercedes but his Red Bull contract runs until the end of 2028.

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz is understood to not be an option for Mercedes, leaving Antonelli and Verstappen as the two main candidates.

Antonelli is highly rated after he won multiple junior single-seater titles at the first time of asking since stepping up from karts to racing cars in 2021.

In Imola, Hamilton was asked whether Sainz would be a good fit for Mercedes but responded by saying his preference would be Antonelli.

“Carlos is a great driver, so I think wherever he goes I think he would be a positive for any team,” said Hamilton.

“Honestly, I have no idea what Toto’s plans are, but for me, taking on a youngster, if it was my role, I would probably take on Kimi.”

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Both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell describe Mercedes as in ‘no man’s land’ as the team sits behind Ferrari and McLaren

Wolff: Maybe we can shine more with an Italian

Mercedes have denied reports they asked for an exemption from the FIA to award Antonelli a superlicence to drive in F1.

After Max Verstappen joined the sport as a 17-year-old, the sport’s governing body introduced a minimum age restriction of 18 years old.

Antonelli is 17 but turns 18 on August 25 this year, the same day as the Dutch Grand Prix. Due to his junior success, he already has enough superlicence points to race in F1, so only his age is stopping him.

Who is Andrea Kimi Antonelli?

  • Antonelli is from Bologna, Italy
  • He is just 17 years old
  • Mercedes signed him to their junior programme in 2019
  • Antonelli was dominant in karting
  • In 2022, he won the Italian and German F4 championships in his rookie campaign
  • In 2023, he claimed the Formula Regional Middle East and European titles
  • Antonelli skipped F3 and is competing in F2 with the Prema team, where he is team-mates with Britain’s Oliver Beraman

Wolff spoke to Sky Sports F1 about his feelings of Hamilton racing in Italy at the weekend for the first time since his shock move to Ferrari was announced and brought up Antonelli.

“I guess for the Italians it’s super exciting to have Lewis Hamilton in red next year. We will get used to the outfits, but we have got to look at ourselves,” he said.

“Maybe there is an option that we shine more with an Italian in our car, so we’re pushing back hard.”

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Toto Wolff gives insight into what was discussed at the Team Principals dinner

Antonelli has ‘metronomic’ pace

Mercedes have tested Antonelli in their 2021 and 2022 F1 cars in April but have tried to play down their expectations of the Italian.

Technical director James Allison praised Antonelli, who has been matching and, at times, outperforming his Formula 2 team-mate Oliver Bearman this season.

“I have had the great pleasure of listening to the engineers describe the interaction with him,” said Allison.

Kimi Antonelli

Image: Andrea Kimi Antonelli is highly rated by many in the F1 paddock

“Just a young, enthusiastic driver, very, very fast, metronomic in his pace. Has not been in an F1 car until recently, but made it look like he’d been in one for ages within a lap or two.

“He came at this generation of cars, the ground effect cars, with an open mind. He feels all the same things that you’d expect him to feel. But he’s not sort of polluted by the previous cars, so he just takes them as they are and tells us what he is feeling as weaknesses and strengths.

“He lets the engineers work to try to improve those things. But he looks like a very promising young driver.”

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Wolff has been trying not to put pressure on Antonelli but previously suggested Mercedes could be “bold” with who they decide to replace the departing Hamilton.

In Imola, the Mercedes team boss said: “We are hyping that young man for a long time now and he will be a very good and a great driver one day in Formula 1, but he’s 17. Fourteen months ago, he drove an F4 car and there is so much expectation in Italy.

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Mercedes Technical Director James Allison described Kimi Antonelli as a ‘promising young driver’ after his recent F1 test

“We are also a little bit guilty about talking about him at that stage and I think we should let him do his F2 thing, deliver results and not be too carried away with what could be or should be.

“Look at George [Russell], he has won F3 and F2 in his rookie year. At the same time, Kimi has delivered on those junior series and is in F2 now so we will see. He’s going to be in Formula 1 one day but let’s not rush.”

What else did we learn about the driver market in Imola?

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Ted Kravitz runs through all the major talking points from Imola in the Emilia Romagna paddock

Prior to the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Alex Albon signed a new contract to stay at Williams until at least 2026, which ended speculation he could join another team.

Red Bull’s Sergio Perez had a difficult weekend as he was knocked out in Q2 and only finished eighth in the race, while team-mate Verstappen converted pole position into a win, and appears no closer to confirming his future as his current deal expires at the end of this year.

It comes at a time when RB’s Yuki Tsunoda performed strongly by qualifying seventh and finishing in the points for a second race running.

Sainz could be waiting to see if Red Bull decide to keep Perez as Sauber and Audi continue their pursuit of the Spaniard.

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Charles Leclerc felt more optimistic about the car’s performance over the weekend, while Carlos Sainz wasn’t happy with the pace as he placed fifth at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix

Asked whether an announcement is still a long way off, Sainz said: “I think so, yeah. It’s not moving too quick.”

Sauber’s Valtteri Bottas was spotted talking to Williams boss James Vowles, with the Finnish driver linked to a return to his old team.

Bottas, whose contract at Sauber also expires at the end of this year, didn’t give anything away about his chat with Vowles.

“[It was] normal things, about life! Of course, when you’re on the free market, you want to check around what’s out there,” he said.

“It’s a pretty normal situation being you’re on the free market.”

Next up it’s time for the most-famous F1 race of them all – the Monaco Grand Prix. Watch every session from the famous street circuit from Friday live on Sky Sports F1, with Sunday’s race at 2pm. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership – No contract, cancel anytime

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