Mercedes take option after Verstappen: Why's Antonelli the best alternative

F1 News

Why Antonelli is the best option for Mercedes
13 June at 16:30

Mercedes has ended up with Andrea Kimi Antonelli in their search for a new driver for 2025. Why do Mercedes choose this now only 17-year-old driver, which other drivers were in the picture and why is Antonelli strangely the most logical option?

Lack of a good alternatives for replacing Hamilton

Mercedes knew what risk they were taking with Lewis Hamilton's contract. Outwardly, there was talk of a new two-year deal in 2023, but in reality it was a 1+1 deal. That way, both parties could decide at the end of 2024 to end the partnership anyway. Hamilton went into talks with Ferrari and the rest is history.

Replacing Hamilton is no easy task for Mercedes. Hamilton is not only a rock-solid driver, but also a huge poster boy for the team. Besides, Hamilton won six world titles with Mercedes as a driver and eight constructors' titles with the team. Although George Russell is increasingly asserting himself on track, the Briton is nowhere near his teammate in terms of status.

There are not many drivers of Hamilton's calibre in Formula 1. Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso are at all the only other world champions still active in the sport. Alonso spoke to Mercedes about a future with the team, but at Aston Martin, Alonso was able to do much more (financially) and could also sign a much longer deal.

In that respect, the turmoil at Red Bull Racing came as a godsend for Toto Wolff. Indeed, this made it seem realistic for a while that Max Verstappen would make the switch. It would have been a masterstroke, but Verstappen remains loyal to Red Bull Racing through 2025. Sebastian Vettel also briefly entered the picture, but given his pace over the last few seasons, it is not surprising that the former world champion will not return to F1.

The problem is that there are not many other drivers who could fill the gap left by Hamilton. Esteban Ocon, Carlos Sainz, Valtteri Bottas and even Mick Schumacher were mentioned as temporary solutions. In this, Sainz perhaps made the best claim to the seat based on his qualities, but like Alonso, he wants more security. A short deal and also a long wait for clarity is not what Sainz is waiting for.

Antonelli has nowhere else to go

With doubts about a possible replacement, Andrea Kimi Antonelli came into the picture. The man through whom the problems indirectly started in the first place. Indeed, because of his presence, Wolff did not want to hand out a multi-year deal to Hamilton. Indeed, there had to be room for Antonelli in the future if he lived up to his potential. The fact that Hamilton did not get that long deal also moved him more easily towards Ferrari.

Not surprisingly, Mercedes wanted to keep that door open for Antonelli. In karting, the Italian won everything there was to win and in motorsport, he has continued that merrily. His first full seasons in the Italian and German Formula 4 championships, the highest-ranked F4 championships, Antonelli won both titles. Indeed, out of a total of 35 races, Antonelli won no fewer than 22!

A year later, Antonelli gleefully repeated that trick in FRECA. He won the European championship and the Middle East championship. The normally conservative Mercedes training programme even decided to send Antonelli through to Formula 2, skipping F3.

In F2, Antonelli made a steady start to his F2 season. Not particularly impressive, but mostly very consistent. Prema did not start the season well at all with new regulations and the fact that Antonelli is regularly ahead of Oliver Bearman also says something about his talent. By the way, the title is still within reach, considering the front of the field has not been flawless either.

The season is not yet crying out for promotion, but Mercedes have a problem with it: Antonelli does not feature in any of the plans of other teams. Unlike Red Bull, Mercedes do not have a junior team where it can field their drivers. Williams seemed a good option, but James Vowles would rather opt for Carlos Sainz or Valtteri Bottas alongside Alexander Albon.

Mercedes are no longer the Mercedes of five years ago

In that respect, Mercedes do have the advantage of allowing Antonelli to test to the hilt. Mercedes is doing just that, and in doing so, Antonelli is reportedly impressing. In the 2022 Mercedes car, a car under current regulations, Antonelli showed himself to be a fast learner.

Mercedes insisted on having named that it was not a shootout, but using George Russell, Mick Schumacher and Antonelli in the same test is obviously an ideal opportunity to compare data. So if Mercedes really chooses Antonelli, the Italian will have shown enough in these tests to justify a promotion.

In addition, the big advantage is that Mercedes are no longer the Mercedes of a few years ago. Mercedes are currently the fourth team on the grid and needs to focus mainly on 2026. 2025 could therefore serve as an ideal learning year for Antonelli, before every driver has to start from scratch in 2026 with new engines and new cars.

In addition, recent examples have shown that years of preparation in the entry-level classes are not at all necessary. His best example in this respect is teammate Oliver Bearman. A driver against whom Antonelli has shown he can cope and a driver who made his debut in F1 in 2024 with hardly any training in that car.

Door must remain open for Verstappen

Funnily enough, the final reason why Mercedes will end up with Antonelli is again Max Verstappen. Just as Wolff factored in Antonelli's arrival in the last contracts, Wolff is now factoring in Verstappen's arrival. Whereas Verstappen is no longer an option for 2025, Wolff clearly wants to keep the door open for 2026. Indeed, there is still a chance that Verstappen might still succumb to the possibilities at Mercedes when the new regulations take effect.

Wolff would therefore be crazy if he commits his drivers for 2026 and beyond too early. Antonelli, whether it is 2025, 2026 or 2027, will eventually drive for Mercedes, that much is clear. If you don't put Antonelli in a Mercedes now and you also want to keep the door open for Verstappen, you're in trouble. After all, the two drivers you then put in the car will then know that their time with the team is finite.

By choosing Antonelli in 2025, Mercedes is keeping the door open for 2026. Antonelli will get a year to learn alongside Russell. The Briton has an expiring contract and should Verstappen prove viable for 2026, Russell could probably say hello to his seat. Still, Russell has his fate in his own hands. After all, if he manages to beat Antonelli by big numbers, he might be the one with a longer contract and Antonelli will still be placed somewhere else.

Antonelli is Hamilton's logical successor

It is the collective of things that makes Antonelli the best possible successor to Lewis Hamilton. There is no alternative that comes close to Hamilton, there is no other place on the grid for Antonelli in 2025, Mercedes are not what it used to be and there must be room for the possible arrival of Verstappen.

While it is the most logical choice for Mercedes, it is a bold move. Despite Mercedes' lesser performance, the spotlight will be full on him in 2025. He seems to be able to handle that pressure too well so far, next year will show whether he'd be able to do the same in F1.