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Toto Wolff

Mercedes tease 'bold' decision for Hamilton replacement

Toto Wolff has one coveted F1 seat up for grabs and is not short of suitors - but is determined to take his time.

Wolff Russell Abu Dhabi
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Toto Wolff will not be "rushed" into deciding who will replace Lewis Hamilton, even suggesting that Mercedes could be tempted into a "bold" decision.

Hamilton will depart the team at the end of the 2024 season for Ferrari, leaving one of the most coveted seats in Grand Prix racing open, even if Mercedes' form has been on the downturn in the ground-effects era.

Wolff and Mercedes have an open choice of drivers to potentially choose from with Alex Albon strongly linked to the vacancy alongside George Russell.

Other contenders include Esteban Ocon, Carlos Sainz [who Hamilton is replacing at Ferrari] or even Fernando Alonso with Mercedes' in-house protege Andrea Kimi Antonelli also another possibility.

Unlike ahead of 2017 when Nico Rosberg stunned the F1 world with his retirement days after clinching the 2016 title, Wolff now has a year to evaluate candidates for the seat - but what is clear from the Austrian's thinking is that Russell, now into his third season with the team, will become team leader.

Full weight behind Russell

"With the Lewis discussion, something that has not been talked about enough is that George has the potential to be next lead driver in the team and is of the generation of Lando [Norris] and Charles [Leclerc]," Wolff told media including RacingNews365.

"I couldn't wish for a [better] new team leader when Lewis leaves, there is no doubt about that.

"He has such a solid foundation, is such a quick, talented and intelligent guy in the car that we just need to take the right choice for the second seat.

"It is not something that I want to be rushed into. A few contracts have been signed in the last few weeks that we would have looked at, that would have been interesting, but the timing beat us a bit.

"I always like change because change provides you with an opportunity, and in the same way we embraced the Nico [Rosberg] situation, and that was equally as unexpected, I am looking forward to taking the right decisions for the team, together with my colleagues for who is going to be in the seat next year.

"Maybe there is a chance to do something bold.

"George in that seat has been great for the team, going toe-to-toe with Lewis in the past two seasons, there was nothing between them.

"Knowing that we have a driver on that level makes the decision for the second seat much more comfortable.

"I have not yet properly reflected with the team on if we want to go for a rookie driver or an experienced one, because I don't know yet what is best for the team going forward.

"If you had told me two days ago that Lewis was going to Ferrari, I didn't think it was possible, so situations and things can change quickly. Contracts are as only good as the driver or teas want them to be."

Andrea Kimi Antonelli

One name tentatively linked with the vacant seat for 2025 is Andrea Kimi Antonelli - Mercedes' great hope currently climbing the junior ladder.

Antonelli - who was born in 2006 - has not even made his Formula 2 debut, which he will do in the coming campaign with the Prema Racing squad that has taken Charles Leclerc, Mick Schumacher and Oscar Piastri to the F2 title in recent years.

But Wolff is keen to protect protege Antonelli, who would be just 18 if he were given the nod.

"Kimi has been with Mercedes since he was 11, and his junior career was very successful," said Wolff of the driver who has collected Italian F4, ADAC F4, and Formula Regional Middle East and Europe (FRECA) titles.

"I think it is most important at this stage that he concentrates on F2, and if we start to spin his mind or unleash rumours in the media on him, that is not going to help his F2 campaign.

"He just stepped out of karts a few years ago, and he is not even 18, so I would rather not start any speculation about Kimi going into Formula 1 at this stage."

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