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Teenager Antonelli in pole position to replace Hamilton

Updated: 2024-04-12 09:10
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Italian 17-year-old Andrea Kimi Antonelli is being lined up by Mercedes to replace Lewis Hamilton, who will join Ferrari.

Mercedes Formula 1 team principal Toto Wolff has given his strongest indication yet that his team intends to replace Lewis Hamilton with rookie Andrea Kimi Antonelli for 2025.

It was revealed in February that Hamilton would end a 12-year spell with Mercedes at the end of 2024 to join Ferrari, leaving the Silver Arrows with a seat to fill for 2025, and no shortage of available candidates to fill it.

As many as 13 drivers on the current grid are out of contract next year, including Carlos Sainz, whose Ferrari seat Hamilton is set to take, and two-time F1 world champion Fernando Alonso, who has yet to agree a new deal with Aston Martin.

However, it is widely thought that the Silver Arrows will eschew a current F1 driver and look instead to youth in the form of 17-year-old Antonelli, who currently competes in Formula 2.

The Italian has been part of Mercedes' junior driver program since 2019 after impressing in karting, and speaking exclusively to Xinhua during the Japanese Grand Prix weekend, Wolff talked up Antonelli's potential.

"He's definitely a very strong contender," Wolff said of Antonelli's chances of taking Hamilton's seat.

"I want to see how his F2 season develops, but we will wait and see what happens with some of the other drivers in F1. I don't doubt his raw speed, talent and ability.

"We wouldn't have supported him from go-karting until now if we didn't believe that he has the potential to go into F1 and do so with Mercedes. Many young drivers have shown in the past that you can do that step."

Wolff added that he would not be forced into making a quick decision on Mercedes' 2025 lineup.

"My feeling at the moment is that I don't want to rush (the driver decision), because Kimi is part of the ideas for next year and is very much in the strongest position, and that's why we don't need to rush into any other decision," said Wolff.

"Obviously, some of the other top drivers are going to make a decision on what to do soon, but there's a feeling that points me in a direction not to take the decision too quickly."

With the likes of Sainz and Alonso having said they want their futures sorted soon, Wolff added that there were concerns over Mercedes potentially missing out on suitable replacements if Antonelli is not deemed ready for an F1 race seat in 2025.

"That's a risk that we are taking," Wolff said of Mercedes' desire to wait before finalizing its 2025 lineup.

"I understand and respect the decisions of (Sainz and Alonso), that they want to have it sorted out, but we can't offer that at that stage, and that is the situation. I know that it's not what they would want."

Hamilton's decision to move to Ferrari is not the first time Mercedes has lost a driver in surprising circumstances, with Nico Rosberg having elected to immediately retire just four days after winning the 2016 world championship.

For his part, Wolff denied that he had been shocked at Hamilton's defection, but acknowledged that the announcement's timing had taken him by surprise.

"I always expect to lose a driver," said Wolff.

"Drivers sometimes change their opinion about where they want to race, and you just need to accept that, because they have a limited shelf life in F1.

"Your career can maybe go into your 40s if you're one of the top guys, but then it ends, and you need to maximize your opportunities. Therefore, what maybe surprised me was the timing, but the (decision to leave), not at all."




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