The next Lewis Hamilton? Mercedes could copy Red Bull trick by hiring ‘fastest driver since Verstappen’

Kimi Antonelli could be a surprise replacement for Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes in 2025

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Mercedes could be set to follow Red Bull‘s lead with Max Verstappen by hiring a teenager to replace Lewis Hamilton for the Formula 1 2025 season.

Kimi Antonelli, a 17-year-old Mercedes junior, has been strongly tipped as one of the stars of his generation and he could be drafted into the team earlier than some might have expected after being promoted to Formula 2.

Hamilton‘s upcoming departure to Ferrari after this season has left a seat vacant for next year, and Toto Wolff has a difficult task on his hands to replace the Briton, who has won six world titles with the team in 11 seasons.

Antonelli, whose name ‘Kimi’ is an ode to 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen, signed for Mercedes‘ junior program in 2019. Since then, the young Italian has generated excitement in every racing series in which he has participated, clinching titles in the Formula Regional European and Middle East Championships in 2023.

Unlike Verstappen, Antonelli will not make his mark in Formula 3 and instead will go straight into F2 in 2024, driving for the Italian team Prema Racing.

And if he impresses in the feeder series, it is not inconceivable that the youngster is earmarked to fill Hamilton‘s enormous racing boots.

Antonelli matches Verstappen

While he is set to skip the F3 championship, Antonelli has already driven an F3 car and made a huge impression in a recent test.

Indeed, the teenager’s pace prompted race engineers to rave about his performance, according to Sky Sports F1 reporter Karun Chandhok, with inevitable comparisons to Verstappen.

The ex-F1 driver revealed he spoke with a number of engineers after the test and their assessment was that he was the fastest F3 driver since Verstappen raced in the series in 2014.

“From everything I hear of Antonelli, he’s pretty damn special. Spoke with the F3 engineers who ran him recently on a private test day,” Chandhok wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Said he was the best driver in an F3 car since Verstappen! McLaren gamble with rookie Lewis in 2007 worked out…”

Chandhok also refused to rule out the possibility of Antonelli stepping straight into the Mercedes in 2025 to partner George Russell, despite his lack of experience and young age, pointing to Hamilton’s rise to F1 at the age of 22 as a rookie.

It wouldn’t be the first time a team took such a risk, however, as Toro Rosso handed a seat to Verstappen when he was 17 and McLaren chose Hamilton and Fernando Alonso to replace Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya for the 2007 campaign. Antonelli could soon be the next in line to make the giant leap into F1.

Joe Krishnan
Joe Krishnan
Joe Krishnan is an NCTJ-qualified journalist who has worked for a number of media organisations, including the Daily Express, The Mirror, Evening Standard, The Independent and Bleacher Report. Joe has been following F1 since when he watched Mika Hakkinen clinch the 1999 drivers' championship, and his first taste of real-life racing action was watching David Coulthard spin off into the gravel at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2001.
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