Trouble for Carlos Sainz? Fresh concern as Mercedes F1 2024 driver swap theory emerges

Oliver Harden
Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton glance at each other during the 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix press conference

We already know Hamilton will take Sainz's seat for 2025 - but will Carlos take Lewis's?

Carlos Sainz’s hopes of replacing Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes could be in ruins if Mercedes decide to place Andrea Kimi Antonelli at Williams for the second half of the F1 2024 season ahead of a 2025 promotion.

That is the view of F1 press conference host Tom Clarkson, who believes the timing of Antonelli’s 18th birthday could suit Mercedes when it comes to deciding on Hamilton’s successor.

Carlos Sainz facing fresh hurdle in pursuit of F1 2025 Mercedes seat?

Despite his lack of experience, 17-year-old Italian sensation and Mercedes junior Antonelli is widely regarded as the team’s preferred option to partner George Russell for 2025.

However, it remains to be seen whether Mercedes boss Toto Wolff would be prepared to gamble on such a young driver, with Antonelli competing in his first season of Formula 2 this year.

Multiple reports from Italy last week indicated that Sainz is on the verge of agreeing a deal to join Mercedes in what would be a direct seat swap with Hamilton, who announced earlier this year that he will move to Ferrari on a multi-year contract from 2025.

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Antonelli, who began an extensive F1 test program with Mercedes on Tuesday, will turn 18 – the minimum age for drivers to be granted an F1 superlicence – on the day of the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort on August 25.

That, Clarkson reckons, could open the door for Mercedes to place Antonelli at customer team Williams for the second half of 2024 ahead of a potential promotion to the Silver Arrows next season.

Appearing on the F1 Nation podcast, he said: “The only question mark is what happens alongside George Russell.

“Is that going to be Carlos Sainz? Is that going to be Kimi Antonelli, who is testing for Mercedes at the Red Bull Ring?

“But equally, is Toto Wolff going to want to give Antonelli a little bit of mileage [before a Mercedes promotion]?

“He turns 18 at the end of August and 18 is the magic number in Formula 1 now because you can’t race younger than that.

“So could we see Antonelli do the second half of the season at Williams before then getting plugged into the Mercedes next year?

“Who knows? But now it’s all about Mercedes.”

Clarkson’s latest comments come after he claimed that Wolff is “pushing” hard to sign Max Verstappen for 2025, with Mercedes keen on a statement signing after a couple of difficult years on track.

Discussing Verstappen’s future, Clarkson said: “His only option now is to go to Mercedes, isn’t it?

“Now that Fernando [Alonso] is locked in at Aston Martin, Max is either going to stay at Red Bull or he’s going to go to Mercedes.

“In Japan, I was told by several people that Toto Wolff is pursuing Max very strongly.

“He needs a signature signing, because obviously the last three years haven’t gone very well for the team and it would be a real statement of intent if he got Max Verstappen.

“And it was even mentioned to me that he’s said to Max, ‘Bring Helmut Marko with you, if that’s what it requires’, so a bit of an Austrian superteam at the top of Mercedes.

“But is that going to happen? Is he going to sacrifice winning another World Championship in 2025 with Red Bull? I find that really hard to believe.

“I now see a bit a little bit of static in the driver market. I see Max staying, I see [Sergio Perez] staying, we see Fernando Alonso staying.”

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