Mercedes may have leaked their No 1 choice to replace Lewis Hamilton | F1 | Sport

Toto Wolff has revealed that Lewis Hamilton was given a short two-year contract partially to protect the future of young star Andrea Kimi Antonelli. In a hint that the 17-year-old is the primary contender to succeed Hamilton, Wolff says he wants to avoid a situation similar to the one that saw Mercedes miss out on Max Verstappen.

Red Bull star Verstappen was being eyed by Mercedes a decade ago. However, the Silver Arrows had Hamilton and Nico Rosberg tied to long-term deals, allowing Red Bull to swoop in to snatch the Dutchman from their grasp.

Mercedes handed Hamilton a two-year contract last summer, but he has since decided to leave midway through the deal in 2025. The seven-time world champion will join Ferrari at the start of next year.

Speculation has turned to who will replace Hamilton’s seat at Mercedes. Wolff appeared to be open to the idea of Antonelli being the long-term successor. The Italian has been elevated into F2 for the upcoming campaign to prepare him for the rigours of Formula One.

“There was a situation many years ago where we had the opportunity to let Max drive,” Wolff told Austrian broadcaster ORF. “And that wasn’t possible back then because we simply didn’t have a cockpit.

“[Nico] Rosberg and Hamilton were tied to us long-term, and Red Bull naturally seized the opportunity. They gave him a contract with Toro Rosso, with the possibility of driving for Red Bull the following year.

“We then lost the young driver, and you can see how successful he has become. And precisely because we have a junior on the horizon who is really driving at a very high level, I simply wanted to keep this option open.”

Wolff played down the prospect of Antonelli joining 2025 as Mercedes look to keep their options open going into next year. But the possibility of Antonelli being signed cannot be ruled out given how highly Wolff and the team clearly think of him.

“That does not mean that we will actually put Antonelli in the car next year,” the Austrian added. “He is 17 years old, and that might be a bit early. But with a view to the next five or ten years, I just wanted to have this option.”

Asked about Antonelli’s potential, Wolff continued: “In a way, he’s a wonderkid. He won everything there was to win in karting and then moved into F4. He won all the championships in his rookie year, then moved up a level and won everything there too.

“Now we’ve decided to skip F3, partly because there’s not much time to test there. Instead, he’ll go straight into F2, which is a huge leap for him. These are really big cars with power. Most of the races are part of the F1-supporting programme, so we’ll have a good overview there too.”

It remains to be seen who will replace Hamilton at Mercedes in 2025. But it seems that the highly-rated Antonelli has an outside chance if Wolff wants to avoid a repeat of his team losing out on Verstappen.

Source link