Race to replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes down to two candidates

With Carlos Sainz now out the race to replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes in F1 2025. The team faces a crucial decision between just two drivers

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As Lewis Hamilton prepares to leave Mercedes for Ferrari ahead of the 2025 Formula 1 season, there has been intense focus on who will fill the seven-time world champion’s seat with the Silver Arrows. And now, the contest is reportedly down to just two candidates: Max Verstappen and Andrea Kimi Antonelli.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has long expressed admiration for Verstappen, who has dominated the sport in recent years. Wolff views the reigning world champion as an ideal fit for Mercedes, bringing both experience and proven success. However, securing Verstappen would be a significant challenge given his current commitment to Red Bull​ given his contract last until 2028.

In contrast, Andrea Kimi Antonelli represents a youthful and ambitious alternative. The 17-year-old Italian, currently racing in Formula 2 with Prema, has been part of the Mercedes junior programme since 2019. Antonelli bypassed Formula 3 after winning the Formula Regional European Championship and is now competing in his rookie F2 season​. Despite his youth, Antonelli has already demonstrated impressive skill, prompting comparisons to a young Verstappen.

Several drivers have been linked to Hamilton‘s seat as a partner for George Russell, with names like Fernando Alonso and Alex Albon floated as potential candidates. Carlos Sainz was another who was in the running, but as Sky Sports have reported, that option is now gone, leaving just two candidates.

Carlos Sainz looks on at the 2024 Emilia Romagna GP in Imola | Ferrari
Carlos Sainz looks on at the 2024 Emilia Romagna GP in Imola | Ferrari

Antonelli’s Rapid Rise

Antonelli‘s rise through the racing ranks has been meteoric. Born in Bologna in 2006, he began his career in karting, quickly making a name for himself by winning the European Karting Championship in 2020 and 2021. His talent was evident early on, leading to a debut in the Italian F4 Championship at just 15 years old. Antonelli continued to impress by winning the Italian F4 championship and the ADAC Formula 4 title in 2022​.

Promoted directly to Formula 2, Antonelli‘s performance has been closely monitored by Mercedes. Despite being new to the series, he has shown remarkable adaptability, securing several top-10 finishes in his first few races. His performance has led to increased speculation about his potential promotion to Formula 1, especially given Mercedes‘ historical commitment to nurturing young talent​.

Wolff has been cautious about rushing Antonelli into Formula 1, emphasising the importance of allowing him to develop without excessive pressure. Nevertheless, the Mercedes team principal has not ruled out promoting Antonelli if his F2 performances continue to impress. The Italian has also tested the Mercedes W12 F1 car and the overall assessment was positive. 

Andrea Kimi Antonelli tests the Mercedes W12 in Austria in his first taste of F1 machinery | Mercedes F1 team
Andrea Kimi Antonelli tests the Mercedes W12 in Austria in his first taste of F1 machinery | Mercedes F1 team

Verstappen: The Proven Champion

Verstappen, on the other hand, offers a different proposition. The Dutch driver has been the dominant force in Formula 1, securing three world championships with Red Bull. Verstappen‘s experience and proven track record make him an attractive candidate for Mercedes, especially as they seek to regain their competitive edge after a challenging few seasons​.

However, luring Verstappen away from Red Bull would be a complex and potentially costly endeavour. Verstappen is deeply integrated into the Red Bull setup, and any move would require significant negotiation and financial commitment from Mercedes. Despite these challenges, Wolff has not dismissed the possibility, acknowledging Verstappen‘s unparalleled talent and potential impact on the team​.

The decision between Verstappen and Antonelli will likely hinge on several factors, including the progress of Antonelli‘s F2 campaign and the feasibility of luring Verstappen away from Red Bull. Regardless of the outcome, Mercedes faces a pivotal choice that will shape the team’s future as they aim to reclaim their dominance in Formula 1.

As Mercedes navigates the transition period following Hamilton‘s departure, the choice of his successor will be crucial. Whether they opt for the youthful promise of Andrea Kimi Antonelli or the proven prowess of Max Verstappen, the decision will have long-lasting implications for the team’s trajectory in the highly competitive world of Formula 1.

Race winner Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium after 2024 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Race winner Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium after 2024 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
John Smith
John Smithhttps://total-motorsport.com
Editor at Total-Motorsport.com and all round Motorsport journalist specialising in Formula 1, IndyCar and Formula E.
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