It appears that Mercedes have already planned their driver line-up for when Lewis Hamilton eventually retires from Formula 1, after getting one of their junior drivers a huge seat in Formula 2 for 2024.
Mercedes junior driver Kimi Antonelli is making the giant leap from Formula Regional European Championship (FRECA) to F2 next season, meaning he’s completely skipping Formula 3.
2023 was Antonelli’s first year competing in FRECA, with the Italian sensation having won the championship with ease.
At just 17 years old, he is viewed as a definite star of the future, who could appear in Formula 1 in a few years’ time.
Antonelli will be racing for Prema Racing in 2024, one of the leading sides in F2, alongside Oliver Bearman, who is part of the Ferrari Driver Academy.
Even before Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff had become aware of Antonelli, the young star had already won several titles in karting, making the Silver Arrows leader eager to sign him.
With Hamilton and George Russell having contracts until the end of 2025, Antonelli could possibly find himself racing for Mercedes in 2026, when the new power unit regulations are introduced.
Should he excel in 2024 though, then perhaps Wolff will try to find him a seat elsewhere on the F1 grid for 2025.
There is certainly a “lot of hype” around Antonelli because of how successful he’s already been just at 17 years of age; however, Wolff is aware that Mercedes must “be careful” with how they manage him.
“His record in karts was enormous, then you put him in the junior formulas and he won every season in his rookie year,” said Wolff, as per The Express.
“We have to be careful because there is a lot of hype around Kimi. It is a big step to put him in F2 as those cars are heavier and more powerful, but if we give him time and don’t expect him to roll up the entire field, then he can do great in this sport.”
Antonelli is avoiding getting ahead of himself and is remaining very focused on his 2024 F2 campaign, which he recognises is going to be “very challenging”.
Whilst he knows next year won’t be easy though, he’s determined to “have fun” and “learn as much as possible”.
“I’m aware that it will be very challenging because the level is really high there. It will be a new car, for me and the others as well but it’s still going to be tough,” said Antonelli.
“I don’t want to set expectations. I will try to learn as much as possible in testing to be ready for the first race, have fun as always, and do a good job. I’m delighted to continue with Prema as I started my single-seater career with them and they are my second family and I love working with them.