Andrea Kimi Antonelli, Prema, Formula 2, 2024

Mercedes expand F1 test programme for Antonelli but ‘not discounting’ Vettel

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Mercedes will give more Formula 1 testing opportunities to its junior driver Andrea Kimi Antonelli, who is a candidate for the seat Lewis Hamilton will vacate in 2025.

However team principal Toto Wolff confirmed Sebastian Vettel, who retired from F1 two years ago, is also under consideration.

Antonelli is due to have his first run in one of Mercedes’ F1 cars during the break between now and the resumption of his F2 season at Imola next month. Wolff said this programme was planned before Hamilton’s decision to leave the team for Ferrari, but has expanded in scope.

“The programme of Kimi driving [a] Formula 1 [car] has been in place for a long time and hasn’t changed massively over the last few weeks,” he said. “What we have done is added more days, but what you will see in the next few months has been in place, whether or not he’s going to sit in a Formula 1 car next year.”

Teams are allowed to run drivers in two-year-old cars under F1’s Testing of Previous Cars regulations. However as Mercedes’ W13 was one of its least competitive designs, beset by severe porpoising problems, Antonelli will make his debut in its immediate predecessor, which the team used to win its most recent constructors’ championship title.

“We’re going to do a few of these days for him to get comfortable in an F1 car,” said Wolff. “He’s driving the 2021 car in Austria for the first time. We want to give him a feeling what a really good car feels like before we put him in the ’22.”

Antonelli has improved his results over his first three weekends in F2. He qualified second and finished fourth in the feature race at Albert Park and lies ninth in the standings.

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Wolff said the team is “keen to see what he’s able to do in a Formula 1 car,” particularly after the impressive performance by his F2 team mate Oliver Bearman, who made his F1 debut last month as a substitute for Carlos Sainz Jnr in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Sebastian Vettel, Porsche, Motorland Aragon, 2024
Vettel tested a Porsche hypercar last week
“It was refreshing to look at how competitive he was in Saudi Arabia,” said Wolff. “No free practice, high speed, complicated track, and he was right up there. So Kimi would be doing just fine.”

Mercedes is also considering a driver who represents the opposite to Antonelli in terms of age and experience. Four-times world champion Vettel indicated this week he was looking at a possible return to F1 next year.

Wolff said Vettel “is someone that you can never discount” from hiring. “I think his track record is phenomenal. And sometimes maybe taking a break is also good to re-evaluate what’s important for you and refine your motivation.”

However he said Mercedes won’t be rushed into taking a decision, even if it means missing out on some leading drivers who he suspects are about to firm up their plans.

“We haven’t taken the decision yet and it’s not something that we plan to do in the next few weeks. I know that the driver market is very dynamic. Some of the really good guys are about to sign for some of the other teams.

“We want to continue to have these discussions and keep the options open. But at that stage, I think it’s much too early for us to commit to a driver, whether very young or whether very experienced – I don’t want to say old – very experienced, which the next few months will give us more clues.”

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Keith Collantine
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34 comments on “Mercedes expand F1 test programme for Antonelli but ‘not discounting’ Vettel”

  1. Vettel to Mercedes, Sainz to Red Bull and Antonelli to Williams would be my preferable scenario at this point

    1. Honestly, apart from keeping talking to him (which surely gets positive PR in Germany and the world in general) I hardly expect them to seriously consider Vettel for the seat – what would they achieve?

      Vettel has never been known for extracting great results from a car nobody could figure out. He has not been part of developing a team back to the top either. And his best days are behind him, being out of the loop for 2 years surely also hasn’t benefitted that. They would do better considering Alonso at this point.

      If they can get Max (still not completely out of the question, but that’s up to RBR to mess up and Max to feel he wants to make a point by leaving), that would be a great result for them. If not, Sainz for a year or two or indeed Antonelli would be an exciting choice.

      If they can’t get Sainz (who might already be heading to RBR next to Max) and deem Antonelli to need a tad more before getting there, just pick someone like Hulk, or heck why not Ocon. Both would get them a chance to see how Russel performs as “team leader”, not having to think about having to assert dominance and overdrive.

      1. I’m surprised by these news as well and don’t see Vettel’s return very likely but it’d immediately transform Mercedes from villains of the sport to an actually likeable team. Vettel has a great marketability and Mercedes probably know they aren’t going to fight for the titles in 2025 so why not give a year to Vettel? Kimi was fine after returning from WRC to F1 and I predict Vettel would do just fine as well. A world champion doesn’t forget how to drive an F1 car in a few years.

        But yeah, again, I don’t think Vettel’s return is very likely even though I’d love to see that happen.

        1. I’m surprised by these news as well and don’t see Vettel’s return very likely but it’d immediately transform Mercedes from villains of the sport to an actually likeable team.

          In what way would swapping out one older driver, and bringing in another older driver, change Mercedes from alleged “villains” to “actually likeable”?

          1. Because the other driver he considers to be more likeable? To be fair, most of the world probably does; but that doesn’t make him any quicker.

      2. I doubt it’s a serious consideration. Seems to me like tactical games in order to put some sort of pressure on Max.

    2. Vettel back full time would be about as much use as Michael Schumacher’s comeback. I can see him doing Le Mans in a third works Porsche, but not whole years of F1.

      I hope Williams are more ambitious than just taking Mercedes drivers on loan, but if they ever ran the same test programme “to give him a feeling what a really good car feels like” they’d have to go back to about 2001…

      1. Vettel back full time would be about as much use as Michael Schumacher’s comeback. 

        In that case they should sign him right now. Brawn said to the senior folks: “Michael will come and he will change everything.”

        Ten years and a dozen titles later these people had a joint appearance on the F1 Beyond the Grid podcast, and not only did they praise Schumacher, they each in turn single him out as the most special driver they worked with.

        Vettel is no Schumacher, but neither is anyone else on the grid today. Still, as a fan, I would rather see them go for the new generation, not a guy who had his debut almost 20 years ago.

    3. I don’t get all the Vettel hype. His career after the 4th championship with RBR has been downhill. RIC handed him his arse his final year at RBR. He choked at Ferrari – and he didn’t exactly steamroll Lance last year.
      Plus he has 3 kids. Hard being a responsible parent when you’re traveling most of the year. He’s also heavily involved in environmental matters. Not going to look so good if he’s driving for a team sponsored by a fossil fuel company.
      I don’t believe great driver’s should give up their career in F1 if they are still as good or better as the young guns – HAM and ALO come to mind.
      But Seb is not in that group. Merc will waste a seat big time if they pass on Alonso (short term – perfect for Kimi) or Sainz or even Albon.

  2. The sad thing is there are far more talented drivers in F2 than him. When you have team bosses in F1 who are more interested in Liberty’s target marketing demographics than the performance of ‘his’ own car, you have a conflict of interests. Red Bull really are the class of the field.

    1. No there is not Ollie isn’t Zane isn’t he’s moved from Freca into f2 in a rubbish prema and is beating Ollie bearman the championship favourite and got 4th in that car in Australia puts it on the second row with no practice in Saudi he’s the best I’ve seen since Verstappen

      1. my money is on Isack.

  3. Vettel? Seriously? How quickly is he going to lose all the extra weight and adapt once again to the lifestyle of an F1 racer after years in retirement? Why not Nigel Mansell already?

    1. Yes, all two years of retirement. If Alonso can do it, I am sure Vettel can. He’s hardly put on a lot of weight.

      1. Alonso was and is worlds better than Vettel though. Alonso absolutely smashed Kimi. Basically out qualified and finished ahead of him in every single race. The next season Kimi was ahead of Vettel most of the time despite always giving Seb preference. Then, Vettel hardly stamped his dominance on the ultra competitive Stroll. Beyond everything, Alonso is famous for his adaptability while that is Seb’s weakness.

        1. someone or something
          5th April 2024, 15:59

          Okay, so while I completely subscribe to the first couple of sentences in your comment, the next on has me scratching my head.

          The next season Kimi was ahead of Vettel most of the time despite always giving Seb preference.

          And I’m not even referring to that ‘preference’ nonsense. We’re talking about 2015, right? You know, the season in which Vettel outqualified Räikkönen 15-4, finished ahead in all but 3 races, and outscored his team mate 278-150?
          Just making sure, because if that’s the case, I wonder where such a massive mis-characterisation comes from.

          1. Maybe then 2016. Because I was rewatching an entire season recently and Kimi and Vettel swapping places in the WDC was a talking point with Croft. As for preference, they were often leaving out Kimi way too long just to get Seb ahead or slow down a competitor.

            It’s true that after whichever season that was, Kimi looked checked out next to Seb.

  4. Seb was clear, though, that his phone conversations with Toto weren’t about driving for Mercedes, so hardly an indication about return, which I still highly doubt would happen because he stopped for a reason, like Nico Rosbeg, & has been clear about this been the case more or less ever since the decision in July 2022.

  5. Is Vettel really interested in racing again? I know he said he missed that. If he isn’t committed to a full return, he’d be a great test driver, if you could have test drivers. Testing the car from 2022 will hardly tell them much they don’t already know, though? I don’t know.

    1. Perhaps Schumacher could have just done this? He was too competitive. It’s difficult to return from full retirement and not like Prost or Alonso, who had planned to return.

  6. Why not throw all the money in the world to get Max Emilian Verstappen to partner George William Russell, don’t waste time with Andrea Kimi.

  7. What poor state F1 is in if they bring Vettel back. Just ignore the talent coming through the ranks of Motorsport, let’s just focus on marketing value. The Liberty virus rubs off.

    1. Liberty has nothing to do with these rumors. And Vettel has basically nixed these rumors. So, it’s not even halfway serious. The media just likes a famous name. In other words, calm yourself.

      1. That’s why said ‘if’. And rubbing off is also intentionally used as in: not directly involved but their culture/tenure rubs off.

  8. Bottas would be a better hire than Vettel.

    Merc isn’t likely to be competing for wins on a regular basis until maybe 2026. So let Kimi in and give him 2025 to become a top tier driver.

  9. I can’t believe they’re seriously considering Vettel, who’s gotten cooler with age, but whose racecraft certainly seemed to decline steadily in his late F1 years.

  10. I’d hope avid readers would know that Toto is only talking about Vettel because he was asked a question about Vettel. He didn’t bring this up on his own and isn’t being serious, rather just answering a question about Vettel in a polite way.

    1. @floodo1 Does seem more likely.

    2. Yes, more and more green it would be nice to see what stupid question the driver was asked (or team boss), as well what they said and the headline that was curled out from it.

  11. They are OBVIOUSLY not considering Vettel. That’s a PR stunt. So the question is: Why do they insist on making an impression that they are open to hire anybody?
    I think it’s to prepare the public to a very unexpected signing. Of course, signing Vettel would be such, but it doesn’t make sense to hire a retired driver.

  12. I haven’t followed Antonelli’s career before this season so I don’t know much about his pedigree, but is he a phenom in waiting like Max or Leclerc was, like in terms of his future? Is he generally regarded to be that level of a prospect?

    1. hadjar or zane look much quicker than OB or KA. although OB looks better than KA, he just isn’t getting enough luck in qualifying lately.

  13. Get Nikita, seriously, that would be an improvement, And get rid of Georgie Baby by the way too.

Comments are closed.