Mercedes to Promote 17-Year-Old Kimi Antonelli as Lewis Hamilton’s Replacement for 2025

While Verstappen might be on the market ahead of the 2026 regulation changes, he won’t be moving just yet.

Kimi Antonelli has been a strong contender to replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes from the start.

Toto Wolff has known since winter that the seven-time world champion would join Ferrari for 2025.

Naturally, Wolff’s top target was reigning title-holder Max Verstappen.

Wolff hoped that the instability at Red Bull, particularly Adrian Newey’s resignation, would prompt Verstappen to consider leaving, My Betting Edge reported last month.

READ: Jacques Villeneuve Predicts Valtteri Bottas’ Return to Mercedes for 2025 Season

While Verstappen might be on the market ahead of the 2026 regulation changes, he won’t be moving just yet.

He could miss a shot at the world championship next year if he joins a Mercedes team that has lagged behind in 2024.

Wolff has always seen Verstappen as an aspirational target, which is why he’s also explored other avenues.

Nico Rosberg says he held extensive talks with Fernando Alonso’s manager before the Spaniard signed an extension at Aston Martin.

Article continues below

Mercedes also made an offer to Carlos Sainz, who was displaced by Hamilton’s move to Ferrari.

However, Sainz wasn’t prepared to accept an initial one-year contract.

There were tentative talks with Alex Albon, but they didn’t progress, and the Thai driver is staying at Williams.

This has played into the hands of 17-year-old academy driver Antonelli, currently in his first year of F2.

According to German publication, Mercedes has formally decided to hire Antonelli as George Russell’s teammate for the 2025 season.

He will be the first rookie they have fielded since their return to F1 in 2010.

While the Silver Arrows publicly maintain that the search is ongoing, they have viewed the Italian as their man ‘for weeks’.

After impressing the team in an extensive private testing program, he’s been ‘given the nod’.

Initially, the plan was to place him at Williams for a year, following a similar path to Russell.

This would have given him the opportunity to develop away from the spotlight under former Mercedes strategist James Vowles.

Williams even requested to field Antonelli in an FP1 session before his 18th birthday. But it seems Vowles has now looked elsewhere for his 2025 line-up.

F1 Oversteer understands that Williams is 90% sure they will sign Sainz alongside Albon.

While this hasn’t been ‘confirmed,’ it effectively closes the door on Antonelli and accelerates his ascent to Mercedes.

Antonelli is generating a huge amount of excitement at Mercedes.

Jacques Villeneuve believes promoting him is an ego-based decision, but they genuinely see him as the next Verstappen or Charles Leclerc.

Antonelli has won four single-seater titles in the last two seasons and reportedly out-paced Russell at a recent Silverstone test, though Mercedes denies this.

He may only be sixth in F2 right now, but that’s a solid start for a debutant.

But there’s a ‘headache’ on the horizon for Wolff. In 12 months, it’s feasible that Verstappen is up for grabs, and he must choose between Russell and Antonelli.

Given Russell’s greater experience and pedigree – his podium in Canada last weekend was the 12th of his career – it may be the teenager who loses out.

READ: Craig Slater Reveals Carlos Sainz’s Likely Move to Williams for 2025 Season

But equally, Wolff might decide that Antonelli has a higher long-term ceiling than a driver who has previously faltered at big moments, not least in Montreal.

Mercedes won’t hesitate to sign Verstappen, even if it means making a brutal call.

They will field two academy graduates for the first time in 2025, but it could be a short-lived partnership.