Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton wildcard option branded ‘best since Max Verstappen’ after private F3 test

Jamie Woodhouse
Max Verstappen, Red Bull

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen after setting pole position for the 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Mercedes’ Andrea Kimi Antonelli has received glowing praise, as ex-F1 driver Karun Chandhok revealed engineers told him he was the “best driver in an F3 car since Max Verstappen” following a private test.

It has become clear in recent years that the Mercedes Junior Team houses one of, if not the most exciting racer on the junior scene in 17-year-old Andrea Kimi Antonelli, who has been hoovering up the titles at every turn, including the 2023 Formula Regional European Championship crown.

So impressive is the Mercedes youngster that he has skipped Formula 3 to move straight to Formula 2 for 2024 where he will continue his Prema association, as rumours swirl that he could find himself in contention to go straight into the 2025 Mercedes F1 line-up to replace Ferrari-bound Lewis Hamilton if he continues his ultra-impressive rise.

Andrea Kimi Antonelli ‘best in F3 car since Max Verstappen’

While Antonelli will not compete in Formula 3, he nonetheless reportedly sampled the machinery recently as part of a private test, where Chandhok revealed that the Italian wowed the engineers, with a “best since Max Verstappen” verdict proving very exciting indeed.

It was in 2014 that Verstappen delighted Red Bull driver programme boss Helmut Marko and then-Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost with his performances in the European F3 Championship, leading to him signing with the Red Bull Junior Team and debuting with Toro Rosso the following season.

Verstappen has since gone on to become the dominant force of Formula 1 and a three-time World Champion.

“From everything I hear of Antonelli, he’s pretty damn special,” Chandhok posted on social media.

“Spoke with the F3 engineers who ran him recently on a private test day. Said he was the best driver in an F3 car since Verstappen!

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Indeed, Hamilton burst onto the scene with McLaren as a title contender from the off in 2007, with the prospect that Mercedes could look to repeat the trick with Antonelli growing increasingly possible.

However, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has also made it clear that they will not fuel speculation surrounding Antonelli, as that will only harm his upcoming rookie F2 campaign.

“Kimi’s been with Mercedes since he was 11,” Wolff told assembled media, including’s Thomas Maher, in the wake of Hamilton’s confirmed departure.

“He’s been in the junior programme, and his junior career was very successful.

“I think what’s most important at this stage is that he concentrates on F2.

“If we start to spin his mind or unleash rumours in the media onto him, that’s not going to help his F2 campaign.

“He’s just stepped out of karts a few years ago and he’s not even 18. So I would rather not start any speculation about Kimi going into Formula 1 at that stage.”

Should Mercedes take the wildcard option and place Antonelli next to Russell come 2025, then it would represent a pairing of Mercedes Junior Team graduates.

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