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The Verstappen-related mistake Mercedes should avoid

Mercedes is on the lookout for a new Formula 1 driver and there is one option that it should be keen to avoid letting slip through its grasp.

Antonelli FRECA
To news overview © Dutch Photo Agency

Mercedes has a huge decision on its hands.

Replacing Lewis Hamilton will be a near-impossible task when the seven-time champion departs the German manufacturer and link up with rivals Ferrari in 2025.

There will be no shortage of interest in what is now the most coveted seat in the driver market, and there are a few ways Mercedes can opt to navigate the situation.

Fernando Alonso will no doubt have interest in taking up a position within the team if he feels Aston Martin is not making fast enough progress, while two-time race winner Carlos Sainz is chasing another seat when Hamilton replaces him.

Both options are relatively safe for Mercedes, but the most aggressive move it can make is to promote Kimi Antonelli following his rookie season in Formula 2 and place him in the deep end alongside George Russell.

Antonelli has leapfrogged into the final stepping stone before F1 this year following his title success in the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine.

With Italian and German F4 titles also embedded in his resumé, Antonelli’s junior career record has been impeccable.

Such a rapid leap to the forefront of F1, however, has the potential to blow up in Mercedes’ face should Antonelli fail to rise to the occasion and leave the organisation in an embarrassing situation.

“Kimi has been with Mercedes since he was 11,” Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff recently told media, including RacingNews365.

“He’s been in the junior programme, and his junior career was very successful. I think what’s most important at this stage is that he concentrates on F2. If we start to spin his mind or unleash rumours in the media onto him, that’s not going to help his F2 campaign.

“He’s just stepped out of karts a few years ago and he’s not even 18. So I would rather not start any speculation about Kimi going into Formula 1 at that stage.”

While it is understandable that Wolff is not keen to pile the pressure on his latest protégé, the Austrian will be anxious not to let another star in the making slip through his grasp.

			© Dutch Photo Agency
	© Dutch Photo Agency

Mercedes' missed opportunity

Many years ago Mercedes was in discussions with Max Verstappen and offered to support the Dutchman while he progressed up the racing ladder.

Red Bull, however, had the advantage of offering him a seat in F1 after he had completed just one year of single-seater racing, and Verstappen naturally committed to the energy drink organisation.

“Max was very good in karting, was good in F3, and it was clear that there’s a big one that’s growing,” Wolff told a Beyond The Grid podcast episode. “We talked to them in the initial phases, and it was a nice discussion with Jos and with Max involved as well.

“But it was clear that we couldn’t give him a seat because we had Nico and we had Lewis and we offered the support in F2, but since Red Bull was able to offer him the AlphaTauri seat, or Toro Rosso back in the day, it got Max into the seat.”

Verstappen has gone on to become one of the sport’s most successful drivers, with his tallies rising amid Red Bull’s period of dominance.

While it is impossible to know just how far Antonelli can reach in his career, it is not often that a junior talent is heralded to such an extent. The most recent examples are Charles Leclerc and Oscar Piastri, both of whom have made F1 their home.

As Mercedes winds down from its Hamilton era, it may signal the start of a new period with Antonelli as the face of the outfit.

Should he perform at a high level in F2, Mercedes would be wise to secure his future before another team comes knocking.

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