Toto Wolff has called for patience to be shown to Andrea Kimi Antonelli as the Mercedes F1 youngster steps up to F2 for the 2024 season.
Having officially joined Mercedes’ driver academy in 2019, Antonelli has emerged as a star of the future by winning the Formula Regional European Championship in 2023.
Although F3 would normally be considered the logical next step for a junior racer, Mercedes are so convinced by the 17-year-old’s potential that he will progress to F2 – the category directly below F1 – with Prema next year.
Toto Wolff tipping Mercedes’ own Kimi to be an F1 great
Wolff has revealed that Mercedes’ links to Antonelli stretch back to 2012 – when the Italian was just six – and believes the youngster already has the potential to be one of the greats of F1.
According to Motorsport.com, he said: “We got Kimi under the wings in 2012 and he was a great kid already then. You could see the character, he was strong.
“We had him in the garage and there was a lot of confidence. And then in go-karting his track record was immense, and then you put him in the junior formulas and he wins every single season in his rookie year.
“But we’ve got to be careful because there’s a lot of hype around Kimi. Putting him into F2 is a big step because those cars are heavier and much more powerful.
“But if we give him time – and don’t expect him to be killing it in his first season – I think he can be a really great one in this sport.”
With F2 welcoming a new car based on current F1 machinery for next season, Wolff is hopeful that Antonelli can get up to speed relatively quickly in the feeder category.
But he is wary of putting a timescale on when Antonelli could be considered for a promotion to F1, claiming that he will face a stiff test from drivers – including Ferrari junior Oliver Bearman, who impressed in a practice outing with Haas in Mexico last month – entering a second season in F2 in 2024.
He said: “I think it depends on how it goes. It’s new cars, which is an advantage, and it all depends on how quick you can be.
“But there are some tough competitors that get to go into the second season – Fred [Vasseur, Ferrari team principal] has [Bearman] – that are highly rated.
“I think, whether it’s a season or two, he needs to demonstrate that he’s ready for a seat in F1. And there’s another step in between: we’ve got to concentrate on F2, nothing else.”
Antonelli, of Bologna, was born two days before the 2006 Turkish Grand Prix – a race remembered for Felipe Massa’s maiden F1 victory and a titanic battle for second place between title protagonists Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher.
Sixteen days later, Antonelli’s namesake Kimi Raikkonen was announced as Schumacher’s successor at Ferrari for 2007.