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Formula 1 Emilia Romagna GP

Speaking from experience, Hamilton backs Antonelli as his Mercedes F1 successor

Lewis Hamilton has backed youngster Andrea Kimi Antonelli as his successor at the Mercedes Formula 1 team, and there are several reasons to agree with him.

Andrea Kimi Antonelli drives Mercedes W12

Mercedes is still waiting to see if it can somehow convince Max Verstappen to join the team as Red Bull's power plays drag on, but as time goes on it has become clear that Antonelli might well be its man for the future.

On Thursday at Imola, Hamilton said he would put the Italian youngster in the car if it had been his call.

"Honestly, I have no idea what Toto [Wolff]'s plans are but I think for me taking on a youngster would be [the way to go]. If it was my job, I would probably take on Kimi," the seven-time world champion said.

But as much as taking on a rookie has not been Mercedes' modus operandi, perhaps the stars have never aligned so well to put its faith into one this time.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

The faith is there

Mercedes' recent actions are suggesting Hamilton's thinking isn't far off that of his employer. Ever since his bombshell move to Ferrari for 2025 was announced, Mercedes has been accelerating its development path for its 17-year-old protege.

That included private tests with its 2021 and 2022 machinery during the large gap between the F2 rounds in Melbourne and Imola, with further testing planned.

There was even a dispensation request to grant the Italian an FIA superlicence before his minimum age of 18, but team principal Toto Wolff quickly shut down any rumours that Mercedes was behind it or that he would even be willing to throw Antonelli in an F1 seat in the short term.

Having skipped F3 to jump straight into F2 with Prema from FRECA, Antonelli is facing a steep learning curve but has done well so far against his more experienced team-mate Oliver Bearman, the 19-year-old who impressed the world with his outstanding Ferrari cameo in Jeddah.

Antonelli is ninth after three weekends, with Prema having struggled to repeat its usual dominance so far, but a fourth place in Australia's sprint shows both he and the Italian powerhouse are starting to get there.

"It's completely on the trajectory that we expected," Wolff told Autosport in Miami about his protege's progress.

"There are easier days, there are harder days. I think between the two drivers and the team, they need to sort out a few issues, but it's not unexpected. And the testing goes very well and we are just approaching it calm and collected.

Andrea Kimi Antonelli, Mercedes testing at Imola

Andrea Kimi Antonelli, Mercedes testing at Imola

Photo by: Davide Cavazza

Stability is key

As evidenced by the latest flurry of driver deals in recent weeks and months, teams are thinking long-term when nailing down contracts into the 2026 regulations era.

Hamilton, Lando Norris, Fernando Alonso, Nico Hulkenberg and now Alex Albon have all signed up for 2026 and possibly beyond as teams aim to put all the pieces of the puzzle together to steal a march on their rivals with the all-new cars and power units. A stable driver pairing means another variable is taken off the board for what will be by far the biggest regulation change since 2009, and possibly the biggest ever.

Williams team boss James Vowles has similarly argued he is only interested in what Williams can achieve from 2026 onwards, so he would probably not be interested in taking Antonelli on loan for a single season in 2025 and only be keen on a multi-year loan.

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

A lower pressure debut

The two squads have a history with the above, with Merc sending George Russell to Williams for three seasons to learn the trade, which turned out to be a win-win situation for both squads. Russell returned a more mature, well-rounded driver ready to race alongside and keep up with Lewis Hamilton, while Williams acquired a higher calibre prospect than its disappointing performances at the time commanded.

Russell's three-year loan also said something about Mercedes' reticence to throw a young cub into a top car, and its previous driver choices also leaned towards experience.

But things might be different this time, because Mercedes no longer has a car capable of fighting for the world championship. And it probably shouldn't have particularly high hopes of having one in 2025 either, as few people in the paddock believe anyone will catch Red Bull before the 'Great Reset' of 2026.

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Inevitably, the highly-rated phenom is set to draw a frenzy of attention as Mercedes already struggles to slow down the hype train right now, but 2025 would the perfect time to bed in Antonelli at Brackley and let him gain experience without the need to set the world on fire. If he continues to learn as quickly as he has done so far, he might well be fully up and running by 2026.

Hamilton knows what he's talking about when he's backing Antonelli. After all, the Briton himself was vaulted straight into a McLaren when he made his much-anticipated F1 debut in 2007.

That risk paid off then for McLaren. It might well pay of again Mercedes.

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