Andrea Kimi Antonelli, Formula Regional European Championship, Prema, Hockenheimring, 2023

Antonelli’s first F2 races key to chance of replacing Hamilton

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Andrea Kimi Antonelli’s progress in his first Formula 2 races will influence whether Mercedes considers him a potential replacement for Lewis Hamilton.

Team principal Toto Wolff is reluctant to put their star junior driver under pressure but indicated he is under consideration to take the seven-times champion’s seat when he leaves to join Ferrari.

“We’ve got that curveball thrown at us with Lewis in the beginning of February and I want to do the opposite when choosing the driver for next year,” said Wolff. “It’s clear Kimi has been in our junior academy since he was 11 and we have great pleasure in watching him grow as a young man and growing through the ranks.

“But I also want to take a little bit of pressure off him. He’s just 17, he’s won everything he needed to win in his rookie season. And I think he’s going to be in Formula 1 and he’s going to be a very successful driver in Formula 1.

“But he hasn’t started his Formula 2 campaign yet. He had a difficult test in the first days in Bahrain and we shall see how this develops.

“That’s why I want to wait for the first few races that are actually overlaying with Formula 1, [see how they] are going to go.”

The possibility of Antonelli making his F1 debut with a front-running team like Mercedes has invited comparisons with Hamilton’s debut 17 years ago. Hamilton won the GP2 (now F2) series as a rookie, arrived in F1 with McLaren in 2007 and came within a point of winning the world championship in his debut season.

The shock news of Hamilton’s impending move to Ferrari has triggered widespread speculation over who might replace him. But Wolff stressed he will take his time over his decision.

“There’s many very good pilots in Formula 1 available for next year also and this is all going to come into the equation when deciding on the driver line-up for next year. But that’s not going to happen any time soon.”

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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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40 comments on “Antonelli’s first F2 races key to chance of replacing Hamilton”

  1. ah yes, let’s put even more pressure on the little guy, otherwise there won’t be much time left in his career for a place at the team. Just give the seat to Alonso and sign the guy as reserve already if you are worried to lose him to other teams

    1. Seems to be all kind of possible scenarios without adding pressure to him indeed. They can simply contract someone else for a year (and then subsequently maybe add another 1 year deal if needed) while Antonelli can develop himself.

      1. I know it’s very unlikely, but with that thought of an interim driver, it would be fun to see Hulkenberg get that seat for a year. Or 2.

        1. I think hulkenberg would be ok with that, I doubt alonso would though, he knows it’s very unlikely that mercedes would have a championship winning car the 1 year he’s there: alonso would want a longer term contract, while hulk could just be happy with finally getting his first podium, which merc basically guarantees, and a chance on a win.

        2. I’m in the 2yr camp too but more because Alonso likely won’t sign for 1.
          Also think Mercedes will be more interested in Antonelli’s last races in F2 rather than his first.

  2. I had a race with him on iRacing last friday, in the F4 at Bathurst.

    I finished ahead of him because he got involved in a crash at the start.

    Toto, give me a call… I’m a safer pair of hands.

    1. Depending on how the next few years play out, that could be your claim to fame!

      1. @ciaran that’s the beauty of iRacing to be honest. I raced against Alonso, Kanaan and Barrichello in the 24 hours of Spa a few years ago. Also raced against Sergio Sette Camara in the F4 at Interlagos a few months ago, and Jose Maria Lopez with the GT3s at Nurburgring.

        “Raced against” is a stretch, they were all a long way ahead of the rest but it was cool to share the virtual track with them.

        1. You have to be invited those races, correct. I am 99% sure not anyone can sign up. So, you must be pretty slick with a greasy knob in your right hand. ; )

          1. Nope, in the case of Alonso/Kanaan/Barrichello it was the public 24 Hours of Spa, they just happened to be in a lower split because of Alonso’s low irating.
            You don’t need to be invited to compete with these guys, unlike with other services. On iRacing they often show up in public races.

            I’m rather average.

    2. Haha, that made me chuckle! :O)

  3. well he’s much, much too pretty isn’t he, not to be in F1!

    But Toto mustn’t lose him, so he has to give him something

    1. Careful, he’s still underaged.

      And, it’s clear that if he wins F2 he’ll get Hamilton’s seat. If he doesn’t clearly outshine the competition, but still looks good, he’ll get Logan’s seat. So, that is something. Besides, I’m sure they have first option on him for at least 2025 and 2026.

      1. well he’s Italian, he’s been available since he was 14 :))

        But hasn’t James said Williams isn’t going to be a nursery for Mercedes? And Toto can’t wait for the F2 title to be decided can he, he has to choose someone fairly soon.

        Plus, a superfast young driver can destabilise the older one, take points off him but make too many mistakes to take the title himself. It’s quite a problem, and we don’t really know what options and conditions there are in the contract, like if he’s offered a full race seat somewhere else

        1. Plus, a superfast young driver can destabilise the older one, take points off him but make too many mistakes to take the title himself.

          A number of us have already said (last year) that Piastri is one to watch in that regard.
          Like Hamilton with Alonzo, Piastri will respect Norris all the way until he’s in the car and feels he can make a better job of finishing 1st.

  4. With a plethora of all kinds of contracts that are signed with young drivers that keep them tied to an F1 team for a life time without even driving once for the team in the result, I don’t think Mercedes will have trouble keeping the young guy tied to them for years without the necessity to force him into F1 prematurely.

  5. History does not repeat itself so following a policy based on earlier experience with other drivers alone is not a sound one. History might enlighten us about human behaviour and how it affects events but at best it’s a pattern that is familiar and a trap for the unwary.

    There has to be more than a matching pattern. There must be a deeper logic for choosing a driver than his junior performances. Just took at previous F2 champions who have faded: De Vries, Schumacher. So winning the championship is not a fail safe measure. The overall character, ability to learn, being a team player, an ability to soak up pressure. Did Antonelli flunk the last at the Bahrain test (it was a ‘difficult test’ for him).

    But that is not to write him off. Does he learn and grow from that ‘difficult test’?

    1. Both De Vries and Mick were not rookie champions though, if Kimi can be champion in his first year then you may as well put him in the seat, pretty much all rookie champions became stars.

      1. Indeed, was about to write the same, and a driver who doesn’t win the minor formula in his first season very often won’t become a top f1 driver.

      2. Yup. As we’ve seen, every single future superstar was great their first season out no matter how young or little experience they had. This myth of time to develop is just that. Max, Lewis, Fernando, Kimi, etc. were all as fast as rookies as at any point. The only difference usually ends up being they play the percentages more as time goes on and are more confident in telling the team GIVE ME THIS.

  6. It’s time for Toto to put his ego aside and sign Fernando Alonso. It appears he views Alonso as a last resort, a “necessary evil” if no other options surface. Apparently Carlos Sainz isn’t available, his father’s connections with Audi may sway him towards Audi F1, particularly with their entry into the sport in 2026 that requires a distinguished driver. It’s clear why he is lagging to take a decision…

    1. Alonso is a perfect pick since he cannot reasonably be considered a long-term replacement. It gives Kimi Antonelli a second year in F2, or if he wins, maybe a debut at someone like Williams for 1-2 years before moving up to Mercedes come 2026-2027.

      1. That is something I hadn’t considered, makes sense, as I don’t think alonso would want to be pushed out of merc as long as he’s competitive, but this might give him enough time to retire before antonelli comes to merc.

      2. Alonso is a perfect pick since he cannot reasonably be considered a long-term replacement.

        I’m not sure how Alonso would react to being labelled as someone capable of keeping the seat warm and ready for a young hotshot.

        1. If if was for two years he’s consider that enough of a sign of respect. If the MB looks like it’ll be a sure bet to be fighting for a championship or even simply the clear second best, I think he’ll still take it. He knows time isn’t on his side. He won’t go there for a one-year contract though if the Aston Martin is fairly close though.

  7. I wonder if for once we should take a team principal at his word (I am not a Mercedes fan) and accept that for Wolff it is best to wait and see?

    1. I don’t know what’s best for Wolff (he can only hope that he does), but it is not my job to care what’s best for Wolff. We, as F1 fans, can hope for whatever outcome we want. The only interesting thing we can do is speculate or imagine what we would do in his position.

  8. If there is ever a season to dominate F2 as a rookie, it’s this year. Brand new car, so even the experienced drivers start from a somewhat similar point to the rookies.

    I cannot believe I am now old enough to remember the debut of a driver who went on to be successful enough that someone named their kid after them and now that kid is on the verge of F1. Huh!

    1. Ahah, true, me too, damn!

    2. Well, there was Ayrton Simmons a few years ago in F3 (or maybe even last season?), though obviously missing the “on the verge of F1 part”.

  9. Why rush with him in the first place?
    Unless he wins the championship on his first attempt, doing another season in F2 wouldn’t be bad at all.

    1. Probably because if antonelli isn’t ready for next year wolff doesn’t know who to take, and I really doubt alonso would be ok with being a stop gap unless he knows he’ll retire by the time antonelli is ready.

  10. Something about this young guy says he can soak up the pressure no problem.
    Fingers crossed he will do well. He’s in the wrong camp, maybe. Merc is yesterday’s story. But never mind, if he deserves to he will end up in the right team before long.

  11. That’s just crazy. Red Bull never put that amount of pressure on Max Verstappen. Max wasn’t sent to ‘GP2’ and told he will or won’t get an F1 seat depending on how he performs in a few opening races, while being way younger than the other drivers.

    The comment about Antonelli having a bad test was half the story; the whole team had a dreadful test. Oliver Bearman, his highly rated team mate, set the second slowest time.

    1. Red Bull never put that amount of pressure on Max Verstappen. Max wasn’t sent to ‘GP2’ and told he will or won’t get an F1 seat depending on how he performs in a few opening races

      When you consider the amount of “impact assessment” Max did with crash barriers and other cars, in just his first 4 seasons, perhaps they should have done.

      1. Please explain. How would that have RB better, or Max better? Would he have become world champions a few years earlier?

        1. If you check the list of other drivers he crashed into, you should find a lengthy list of teams with more money to spend on development.
          Learning not to crash is a skill he has used many seasons in F1 to acquire and is still not complete.
          At what cost to STR and then RBR? At what cost to other teams who had a driver in a car occupying the bit of tarmac Max decided he could use, and woe betide anyone who thought prior occupancy was a safe bet.

          If he’d been treated like other crash prone drivers, he would probably have a career matching his fathers

  12. No pressure…

  13. No. This is just incorrect.
    He already had enough super licence points. If merc wants to put him in f1 in 2025 and not just in 2026 when they’d 100% do it, they can. How well he performs early on, or even throughout the entire season is irrelevant.
    Toto wolff already said he wanted to let aka breathe. He already skipped f3, he’s only 17, he could easily stay in f2 for 2 years (or go to super formula if he wins f2 this year) before joining f1 in 2026 when the new cars come

  14. Team principal Toto Wolff is reluctant to put their star junior driver under pressure

    Well, that ship has already sailed.

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