Speculation has been rife in the Formula 1 world following the announcement of Lewis Hamilton’s departure from Mercedes at the end of the 2024 season, as he prepares to embark on his 18th season with Ferrari.
Among the contenders rumored to replace the seven-time world champion is the young and talented 17-year-old Italian, Kimi Antonelli.
Antonelli boasts an impressive track record as a two-time European karting champion, Italian F4 champion, and ADAC Formula 4 champion, and he has also secured victories in both the Middle Eastern and European regional championships.
Antonelli’s achievements have propelled him to a remarkable position in his career. Instead of the conventional progression through Formula 3 (F3), he has been promoted directly to Formula 2 (F2), where he will be racing for Prema in the 2024 season.
Notably, Antonelli has already accumulated sufficient super license points to compete in Formula 1, but he will need to reach the age of 18 before he can be eligible to race at the highest level of motorsport.
Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff is a firm believer in Antonelli’s potential, but he has exercised caution regarding any premature discussions about the young driver’s future in Formula 1.
Wolff emphasized the importance of Antonelli focusing on his upcoming F2 campaign and suggested that creating speculative rumors in the media would not be conducive to his development.
Wolff explained, “Kimi has been with Mercedes since he was 11. He’s been in the junior programme, and his junior career was very successful.
“I think most important at this stage is that he concentrates on F2. I think if we start to spin his mind or unleash rumors 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 F1 at this stage.”
It’s worth noting that fast-tracking young drivers is not a new concept in Formula 1, with Max Verstappen being a prominent example.
Verstappen skipped F2 entirely and made his debut in Formula 1 in 2015, becoming the youngest driver to compete in a race weekend at just 17 years and three days old.
However, the rules have since evolved, requiring drivers like Antonelli to be 18 years old to obtain their super license.
Toto Wolff has also indicated that there is no rush to find Hamilton’s successor at Mercedes.
He mentioned that they may have considered McLaren driver Lando Norris as an option, but the timing didn’t align with the recent extension of Norris’s contract with McLaren.
While Kimi Antonelli’s future in Formula 1 holds great promise, it appears that patience and a steady focus on his F2 career will be the guiding principles for now, as the motorsport world eagerly anticipates his journey towards the pinnacle of racing.