Toto Wolff not ruling out ‘bold’ Max Verstappen-esque driver signing to replace Lewis Hamilton

Thomas Maher
Mercedes' Toto Wolff, Lewis Hamilton and Andrea Kimi Antonelli.

Could Andrea Kimi Antonelli be an option for Mercedes to make a 'bold' move and replace Lewis Hamilton in 2025?

Toto Wolff won’t be rushing into a decision on who to sign alongside George Russell for 2025, following the vacancy left by Lewis Hamilton.

Mercedes is left with a vacant seat for 2025 as Lewis Hamilton has jumped ship to join Ferrari after more than a decade with the Brackley-based squad.

With plenty of driver options available, as numerous contracts come to a close at the conclusion of 2024, one possibility – however slight – is that Mercedes could plump for junior driver prodigy Andrea Kimi Antonelli.

Toto Wolff not ruling out Kimi Antonelli Mercedes promotion

At just 17 years old, the Italian driver has proven a revelation in junior categories – his age and rapid climb a throwback to how Max Verstappen came through the ranks almost 10 years ago.

Having won multiple karting championships, Antonelli has won five single-seater title categories in the last two years and will jump straight into Formula 2 with Prema in 2024.

But could the Mercedes prodigy actually have a chance of jumping straight into a Mercedes F1 seat in 2025 if he puts in a strong season in F2?

With Mercedes aligning George Russell to take over the leadership of the team, and Wolff effusive in his praise of Russell in a media call on Friday, Wolff addressed the possibility of taking a gamble on Antonelli.

“Kimi’s been with Mercedes since he was 11,” Wolff told assembled media, including PlanetF1.com, in the wake of Lewis 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.”

With a full motorsport season to come before having to worry about having an empty seat, Wolff said the team has plenty of time in which to weigh up their options.

“We have such a solid foundation,” he said.

“Such a quick and talented and intelligent guy in the car that we just need to make the right choice for the second seat. That’s not something I want to be rushed in.”

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Interestingly, he suggested that the likes of Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc – both of whom just recently announced new contracts with McLaren and Ferrari, respectively – could have been of particular intrigue for Mercedes.

“There’s an exciting situation at the end of ’24 with some drivers becoming available, others just signed a few weeks ago so these ones would have been opportunities. So that timing, if it would have been six weeks earlier, there would have been more opportunities, but it is what it is.

“But in ’24 and ’25 and beyond, the driver market is very interesting. We need to look out to the future. Who is it that we can partner with George? What’s the best combination?

“I think in terms of the drivers that could hopefully join, there’s a variety of options. At this stage I wouldn’t want to commit to ‘this is when we are going to do it’, I want to take my time.”

It’s not the first time Mercedes and Wolff have had to scramble to find new options, having had to find a replacement for retiring World Champion Nico Rosberg just a few days after the German driver won his title.

“In the same way we’ve embraced the Nico situation, and that was equally from one moment to the other unexpected, I’m really looking forward to making the right decisions for the team together with my colleagues in who’s going to be in the seat next year. And maybe it’s a chance to do something bold.

“I guess that a few contracts have been signed a few weeks ago that we would have looked at that could have been interesting, but the timing here bit us a bit. But in a way, I always like change because change provides you with opportunity.”

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