Formula 1 Racing

A Verstappen-grade talent to replace Hamilton? Assessing Antonelli’s potential · RaceFans

A Verstappen-grade talent to replace Hamilton? Assessing Antonelli's potential · RaceFans

Andrea Kimi Antonelli could make his Formula 1 debut before the season is over, according to some of the speculation earlier this year.

But even if he has to wait longer than that it seems a near-certainty that Mercedes junior driver will end up on the F1 grid.

George Russell, who is currently without a team mate for next season at Mercedes, believes that Antonelli is “no doubt going to be a Formula 1 driver in the future”.

Not yet legally old enough to race in F1, the 17-year-old has a level of hype around him not seen since another teenager, Max Verstappen, made his record-shattering F1 debut back in 2015. The rules introduced by the FIA following Verstappen’s debut, such as the 18-year age limit, are potentially all that has kept Antonelli from arriving even earlier.

After letting an opportunity to have Verstappen in their stable slip through their fingers all those years ago, Mercedes are eager to harness one of the most outstanding young talents of his generation – especially as Lewis Hamilton will be leaving the team at the end of the season, leaving them a seat to fill.

On the face of it, Antonelli’s performances in this year’s F2 championship give few clues why he is being hailed as ‘the next big thing’. After 10 races, Antonelli lies sixth in the championship, his best finish a trio of fourth places, with no wins or even podiums to his name.

So what is it about Antonelli that has led Mercedes to consider him as a viable candidate to replace the most successful F1 driver of all time?

2014-21: The karting years

Antonelli already had Mercedes’ backing while he was in karts

The son of touring car and GT racer Marco Antonelli, who founded the Antonelli Motorsport team, Kimi – as he prefers to be called – arrived on Mercedes’ radar before their last newcomer, George Russell, made his grand prix debut.

A multiple champion in various junior Italian karting series, Antonelli began to forge a relationship with Mercedes in 2018 before he was a teenager, not yet having even arrived at OK Junior level. He was outstanding in mini karts in 2018 before stepping up to the CIK-FIA level in 2019, officially signing as a Mercedes junior in April the year Russell became an F1 driver.

Antonelli finished second in the OK European championship behind Marcus Amand but ahead of Ferrari junior Tuukka Taponen, then took fifth place in the world championships in Finland, behind current F2 rival Pepe Marti. Antonelli showed improvement the…

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