Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Losail International Circuit, 2023

Mercedes open to “bold” replacement for Hamilton – and aren’t discounting Antonelli

Formula 1

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Mercedes are open to considering a “bold” replacement for Lewis Hamilton which could even include a driver who hasn’t made his Formula 2 debut yet.

Hamilton’s shock decision to join Ferrari in 2025 leaves Mercedes with a vacancy alongside George Russell in its driver line-up.

Speaking to media including RaceFans for the first time after confirming Hamilton’s impending departure, team principal Toto Wolff said the news hands Russell a chance to establish himself as their new leading driver.

“We have two excellent drivers,” he said. “We have Lewis in his final year at Mercedes and George eager to go back in the car and perform.

Lewis Hamilton, Toto Wolff, Mercedes, Yas Marina, 2023
Report: How Hamilton told Mercedes he was leaving and why Wolff holds “no grudge”
“We need to put a car on the track that has more pace than last year’s car and we know how difficult it will be to compete not only with Red Bull, but also with the other ones.

“Also, of course, in all the Lewis discussions something that has not been talked enough is George. George has the potential to be the next lead driver in the team. He is of the generation of Lando “Norris” and [Charles] Leclerc and some of the others and I couldn’t wish for a new team leader when Lewis leaves. No doubt about that.

“So we have such a solid foundation, such a quick and talented and intelligent guy in the car that we just need to take the right choice for the second driver, the second seat. And that’s not something I want to be rushed in.”

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Wolff indicated some drivers who recently extended contracts to drive for other teams would have been of interest to Mercedes had they been available. McLaren’s Norris and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc have signed new deals with their respective teams since the new year.

Andrea Kimi Antonelli, 2022
Antonelli will make his F2 debut this year
“I guess that a few contracts have been signed a few weeks ago that we would have looked at that could have been interesting, but the timing here bit us a bit,” said Wolff. “But in a way I always like change because change provides you with opportunity.”

He likened the situation to Nico Rosberg’s shock departure from the team after he won the title for them in 2016. That led Mercedes to extract Valtteri Bottas from his Williams contract to fill their unexpected vacancy.

“In the same way we’ve embraced the Nico situation, and that was equally from one moment to the other unexpected, I’m really looking forward to taking the right decisions for the team together with my colleagues in who’s going to be in the seat next year. And maybe it’s a chance to do something bold.”

While Mercedes will have the pick of almost every driver already in F1, they also have one upcoming driver in Formula 2 this year, Andrea Kimi Antonelli. The 17-year-old moved into the category after winning the Formula Regional European Championship last season, skipping Formula 3.

Although Wolff downplayed any talk of promoting Antonelli directly into F1 with Mercedes – in the same way Hamilton arrived with McLaren 17 years ago – he did not rule it out.

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“Kimi’s been with Mercedes since he was 11,” said Wolff. “He’s been in the junior programme and his junior career was very successful.

“I think what’s most important at this stage is that he concentrates on F2. I think we start to spin his mind or unleash rumours in the media onto him that’s not going to help his F2 campaign.

“He’s just stepped out of karts a few years ago and he’s not even 18. So I would rather not start any speculation about Kimi going into Formula 1 at that stage.”

The timing of Hamilton’s decision leaves Mercedes plenty of time to settle on the best possible replacement, Wolff added.

“When we decided, Lewis and us, to go for a very short-term contract, we knew why we were doing it. It was to leave him options open and, at the same time, us [too].

“There’s an exciting situation at the end of ’24 with some drivers becoming available, others just signed a few weeks ago so these ones would have been opportunities. So that timing, if it would have been six weeks earlier, there would have been more opportunities, but it is what it is.

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“But in ’24 and ’25 and beyond, the driver market is very interesting. We need to look out to the future. Who is it that we can partner with George? What’s the best combination?

“I think in terms of the drivers that could hopefully join, there’s a variety of options. At this stage I wouldn’t want to commit to ‘this is when we are going to do it’, I want take my time.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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54 comments on “Mercedes open to “bold” replacement for Hamilton – and aren’t discounting Antonelli”

  1. When Max Verstappen debuted, the FIA responded with a new superlicence points system to prevent young inexperienced debutants to enter F1. To my knowledge you need a minimum of superlicence points and a minimal age of 18 years. Kimi Antonelli fails both criteria. So even if Mercedes is contemplating him, they are not allowed to let Antonelli race. Or am I mistaken?

    1. He will have fulfilled those criteria by 2025, which is when the seat is available

    2. He will be 18 this year, and he has a boatload of superlicense points from title wins in the 2022 F4 series in Italy and Germany, and 2023 Formula Regional series in Europe and the Middle-East. Even if he scores no additional points in 2024 he’ll qualify.

    3. Ouch, that was a simple mistake from my side. Thanks for correcting me guys, I leave myself out.

      1. It’s a bit of a mess. You’d think that the FIA would have a nice handy list on their website with every eligible driver, but we’re left making Excel sheets with an arcane list of points for every single series out there. On the plus side, the COVID-rules will no longer apply soon enough so the ‘best three season out of the four’ situation will stop complicating things.

      2. When I looked at the photo, I thought he looked about 12 so I was somewhat confused by this too.

    4. Can’t say I have ever heard of him. Make this swap all happen now. Plug the hole with Sainz for a season give this young fella another year to mature.

  2. I wonder what Kimi thinks of this new kid who bears his name? I’m sure he will have a memorable quote to say about him.

      1. Bwoah, he’s just another driver who happens to have the same name as me, it’s really no big thing.

  3. I so wish they would get Alex Palou… eh…

    1. I so wish they would get Alex Palou…

      What, get him to sign a contract and honour the contract?

  4. vesti is probably losing his mind right now

  5. Be Bold … tell Daddy Stroll that you will pay any price for Lance!

  6. Put your ego aside and just sign Fernando Alonso.

    1. I think you might also need Fernando to put aside his ego.

      1. SteveP,
        He offered to drive for them for free after Nico Rosberg’s sudden retirement but was turned down by Wolff.

        1. Merc is a bit less attractive of an option now.

          I honestly find it funny that any of these teams pay drivers. They should form a cabal and agree to never pay drivers more than $1m. Almost all of the would drive for free and all would drive the best car for free. Except maybe Kimi.

      2. Such an enlightened comment, There should also be a WCOTD in this site

    2. I agree. Either take Alonso or a Rookie. They already know what the others can do and that won’t do.

  7. Sonny Hayes.
    Andrea or Mick would be “a big name” for the wrong reasons.

    1. Mick was ditched from his reserve and sim role after just a year and is now at Alpine, I somehow doubt he’ll be even remotely in the conversation at this point.

      1. Mick Schumacher is still the Mercedes’ reserve driver in F1 2024 though, this was announced in November 2023 by Mercedes after his announcement that he was joining Signatech/Alpine in the WEC.

        Speaking of which, I wonder if that disreputable Calmels is still involved in that operation.

    2. Rossi is recommending Toto sign Ocon to a five-year guaranteed deal. I’m sure he and Jorge would work well together.

  8. too bad on the timing, I would have loved to George & Lando as teammates… but Lando & Oscar will be fun to watch too

    1. Lando & Oscar will be fun to watch too

      So, what do you reckon – will Oscar start beating Lando this season, or bide his time and do the job in 2025?

  9. If Mick wins the endurance championship he will put himself into pole position for 2025

  10. I think it’s going to be Mick Schumacher getting the seat for 2025. He deserves a seat at a top team after what Gunther Steiner kicked him out in the middle season.
    Haas Team is a crappy car so Mick will have potential to excel at Mercedes.

    1. Tommy Scragend
      3rd February 2024, 10:14

      He’d need to learn to keep it on the track and out of the barriers first.

      If his surname wasn’t Schumacher he’d be nowhere near Formula 1.

    2. Apart from his name he has been rather underwhelming. If they trust in Russell they might go for the Marketing value of the name but racing wise it wouldn’t make sense.

    1. Would bring drama, motivation (esp. vis-a-vis teammate!) and experience. On the face of it an extremely unlikely option but then again, the whole business of F1 is just that, extremely unlikely.

    2. Val probably doesn’t want to be number two driver again.

    3. VALTTERI, THIS IS TOTO….never mind, I give up

      1. That’s bold.

        1. @bullfrog: bold and italic to be precise

  11. Should be Albon. He might lack the experience of Alonso & Hulkenburg but he’s naturally fast, has proven great race craft, is consistent, has plenty of time to grow, learn & remain in F1 for many years (unlike the elders), is technically British which makes slotting into the team simple & is good friends with George & popular with F1 fans.

    The fact is he was chosen for that Red Bull seat as he was impressive at Toro Rosso. He showed moments of skill at RB but couldn’t find his feet with the very different car, same as Gasly & Perez has faired better after the team realized they had to adapt to other drivers, yet he has still struggled. He’s since been great for Williams & George has proven the Williams/Mercedes switch works well.

    With a solid car, George & Alex would be a force.

    1. I would also take Albon.

  12. I think it should be Albon or Schumacher. But it’ll probably be Ocon or Sainz.

  13. Making a “Bold” replacement for Lewis suggests not much confidence in George

    1. Doesn’t exactly set him in perfect light does it?

    2. Not so sure, if they pick Schumacher it will be bold and Russell won’t have any issues.

    3. You could also say that MB would make an bold replacement just because they have enough confidence in George. They know that if the bold replacement doesn’t work George can do the job.

  14. There is a story on X tonight about Albon being offered a contract by Red Bull from 2025 onwards.

  15. Get Raikkonen back again!

  16. They should be really bold.
    Put a woman in the seat.
    Susie Wolff or Danica Patrick.

    1. Tommy Scragend
      3rd February 2024, 10:16

      They are both 41 and long since retired from racing.

      Are they the only two women drivers you know?

    2. If you want to go that road, at least go with the future and Doriane Pin but then there is some issue with superlicense points.

      Would be interesting to know how many female drivers actually qualify to drive in F1.

  17. In all seriousness, I would bring back Nico Rosberg.

    Who remembers this fine piece of work where Nico beat Hamilton by almost a complete second in qualifying?


    For some reason the video is nowhere to be found on Youtube (make of that what you will).

  18. Alonso, anything less would be uncivilized.

  19. Maybe the wrong place to post, but all this hype about Lewis going to Ferrari confuses me.
    Yes, Lewis is one of the best drivers out there, is he really that much better than Leclerc? Ferrari has a reputation for screwing up strategy and throwing wins away.
    I think and why not, Lewis is doing it because he probably thinks Mercedes will not be able to produce a winning car in the future so why not for the fun of it drive for the most prestigious team on the grid.
    He of course totally deserves it and if successful double whammy.
    Not sure what you guys think, but like to understand it better.

    1. I must agree with your comments but time will tell……

  20. Getting Kimi (Raikkonnen I mean) would really be a bold one LOL

  21. come on, steal the Hamilton Ferrari scene and get Alonso for full chaos

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