Mercedes told to ‘go bold’ replacing Lewis Hamilton with ‘incredibly highly-rated star’

Jamie Woodhouse
Lewis Hamilton raises his hands to the crowd.

Lewis Hamilton raises his hands.

While Formula 2 commentator Alex Jacques feels the risk would be too great to put Andrea Kimi Antonelli into a Mercedes 2025 seat even if he won the F2 title, former F1 driver Jolyon Palmer pleads Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff to “take the punt”.

With Lewis Hamilton heading to Ferrari for 2025, Wolff has a huge decision to make on who will take over from the seven-time World Champion as team-mate to George Russell.

Established Formula 1 racers like Fernando Alonso, Carlos Sainz, Alex Albon and Esteban Ocon have all been linked with the upcoming vacancy, but could Mercedes go left field and promote their red hot junior prospect Antonelli?

F1 pundits split on Mercedes Andrea Kimi Antonelli option

Mercedes Junior Team member Antonelli has been making waves on the junior scene, to the extent that following his 2023 Formula Regional European Championship title win, the 17-year-old has bypassed Formula 3 and is preparing for a Formula 2 campaign with Prema.

Speaking during pre-season testing, Jacques, who provides commentary across the F2 calendar, stressed that we need to see how Antonelli performs first in F2 before talk of him being a contender for the Mercedes seat can have any substance, though either way, he is not convinced that going straight into the Mercedes line-up would be Antonelli’s best route into F1.

Instead, he feels the Russell or Leclerc route could be more beneficial, Mercedes having sent Russell to Williams for three seasons after their academy graduate won the 2018 F2 title, while Leclerc had a season with Sauber before his Ferrari promotion.

“There are a lot of talented drivers on the F2 grid this year, but Antonelli has been talked up enormously because he is part of that Mercedes programme,” said Jacques.

“He is the FRECA champion who has bypassed Formula 3 and has been placed straight into Formula 2. We’ve had drivers like Max Verstappen, like Lance Stroll who have just jumped straight up from the third tier to Formula 1, but he’s bypassed the third tier.

“He’s been placed with a team with championship pedigree in Prema, who brought through the likes of Charles Leclerc. He’s incredibly highly-rated.

“I think it would make more sense to do a Leclerc. Having not seen one session of Formula 2 so far, the ultimate thing is let them race, let’s see who performs well, let’s see who does well.

“Reputations don’t win titles, drivers do, you have to perform. Formula 2 is incredibly competitive.

“But if you were going to promote him, I think it’s an incredibly difficult ask to ask someone to go from being a FRECA champion to a Mercedes Formula 1 driver in such a short space of time.”

When former Renault driver Palmer asked Jacques if he sticks to that opinion should Antonelli win the 2024 F2 title, Jacques replied: “Yes.

“Let’s just say he’s half a second off George Russell in his first ever Formula 1 qualifying session. If you’re with a Williams or you’re with a Sauber, you can learn the ropes.

“I thought one of the useful things for Oscar Piastri last year is McLaren did get a bit of a slow start. So his early races in Formula 1 were outside of the focus of say a Q3.

“If you’re a Mercedes Formula 1 driver, you’re expected to get to Q3. How close the field spread is, I just think you’re heaping a lot of pressure on.

“That said, if he’s phenomenal, if he starts winning for fun like we saw with Russell, like we saw with Charles Leclerc, then there’s going to be a huge clamour to promote.” recommends

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Formula 1 presenter Will Buxton said he is firmly of the belief that “you’re ready when you’re ready”, so with that in mind, and considering Wolff has not ruled out a “bold” choice as Hamilton’s replacement, he hopes Antonelli will get the Mercedes seat if he earns it through his F2 performances.

“I’ve always been of the opinion that you’re ready when you’re ready,” said Buxton. “And I mean that in terms of Formula 1 has looked towards younger and younger drivers over time, to the extent that older drivers got passed over. And I always thought that was a bit harsh.

“Okay, it took you two years, three years to win the F2 title. I don’t think that should matter. Quality should shine through and it shouldn’t matter how long it takes you. If you’re good enough, you should be there.

“And I think if Antonelli does show that he’s good enough, I would love to see him in that Mercedes.

“The exceptions, tend to be the exceptional. Verstappen, straight out of F3 after a season of cars, straight into F1. Did he look out of place? Not at all. Okay, he was in the Toro Rosso and they bumped him up after a season and a bit.

“If Antonelli is as good as we think he is, the last time this kind of thing happened was Lewis in at McLaren. Everyone said it was too soon, he’s not experienced enough. He was in an era of unlimited testing admittedly, he got a lot of practice.

“He was a phenomenon, he did a brilliant job. He matched Fernando Alonso in their rookie season together [sic] and has gone on to be the driver that we know he is.

“Toto has said, ‘We may take a bold decision on our drivers’. Honestly, I would love it.”

And it turns out Palmer would too. He is urging Wolff to “go bold” and select Antonelli if he wins the F2 title, countering Jacques’ point on the weight of expectation by suggesting Antonelli would not be expected to beat Russell and fight for the title from the get go.

Also, with new chassis and power unit regulations set to sweep into Formula 1 come 2026, Palmer feels a year at Mercedes under Antonelli’s belt before this reset could be extremely valuable.

“You’ve got to go bold,” said Palmer. “If Antonelli wins F2 and looks an absolute superstar, you’re Mercedes, go bold! Take the punt, put a superstar in the right seat.

“And then if 2025 starts off a bit slow, we know that the expectation is not that he’s going to come in and beat Russell and be a champion. But he’s at least embedded within Mercedes.

“There will be scrutiny, there always is, but it’s not going to be through the roof in the early races.

“But then you’re there, you’ve got a season under your belt, 2026, new regs, you’re ready to hit it hard off the top.

“And I think team principles are too cautious with their driver signings. There’s no rookies on the grid now. I think everyone is so stable and wants to keep a safe pair of hands behind the wheel. When you have a potential star, it’s very rare that they don’t end up being a star.”

We will soon get our first sight of Antonelli in F2 action, as the season-opener coincides with F1’s in Bahrain, the sprint and feature race taking place on March 1 and March 2 respectively.

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