The mistake Mercedes admits it’s made with its next F1 megastar

When you have Max Verstappen's next car on your hands, it's hard for a Formula 1 team like Mercedes to stop its excitement from spiraling out of control.

Especially when its current on-track prospects are a far cry from its title-winning glory years, and a reset of Formula 1's car and engine rules in 2026 is its next realistic hope of fighting for titles again.

Even more so when she missed out on Verstappen's original car, all because she didn't have an F1 seat ready and waiting for the Red Bull she raced with in 2015.

This time Mercedes has this vacant seat for Kimi Antonelli, in her team, so she won't make the same mistake again.

Antonelli remains Mercedes' 'Plan A' for next season – as has been the case since Lewis Hamilton first announced his surprise move to Ferrari. Only an equally bombshell Verstappen Red Bull exit would usurp Antonelli if the 17-year-old continues to perform in Mercedes' F1 testing programme.

So there He should There will be no repeat of Verstappen's original mistake, but the team has admitted to making a different mistake with its long-time student.

“We're a little guilty”

Kimi Antonelli

Mercedes has always stressed that it does not want to put too much pressure on Antonelli, something team boss Toto Wolff has admitted he is starting to become guilty of.

“We have been promoting this young man for a long time and he will one day be a great driver in Formula 1,” Wolff said at Imola.

“But he's 17. Fourteen months ago he was driving an F4 car [Antonelli last raced in F4 19 months ago]There are a lot of expectations in Italy. We're also a bit guilty of talking about it at that point.

“We have to let him do Formula 2 things and get results and not get too carried away with what could be or should be.

George Russell GP3 2017

“Look at George [Russell] -Won by F3 [when it was GP3, pictured above] And F2 in his first year, at the same time Kimi did well in the junior series and he is in F2 now so we will see.

“He will be in Formula 1 one day, but let's not rush.”

As Wolff said, at just 17 years old, Antonelli has made a seismic leap from Formula Regional machinery (an intermediate step between Formula 3 and Formula 4) to Formula 2 this year.

Upon arriving there, he found a much more difficult situation in the Prema Formula 2 team than some of Prema's former Formula 1 graduates, such as Charles Leclerc and Oscar Piastri, had faced.

Kimi Antonelli Mercedes F1 test

Amidst all this, he has begun a special Formula 1 testing program with Mercedes which will be the most important deciding factor in his selection as Hamilton's successor in 2025.

While the team had Antonelli's testing program for the 2024 season “for a long time”, Mercedes added more days to it, once it became clear that he would have an unexpected vacancy in 2025.

Mercedes technical director James Allison, who has mentored the likes of Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Hamilton, was positively gushing with praise for Antonelli when asked how Mercedes' initial tests for Antonelli on its 2021 and 2022 cars were going.

“It was a great pleasure to listen to the engineers describe interacting with it,” Allison explained.

“He's just a young, enthusiastic driver, very fast, very up to speed.

“He hadn't been in a Formula 1 car until recently, but he made it look like he'd been in one for a long time over a lap or two.

“He comes to this generation of cars, ground-effect cars, with an open mind. Yes, he feels the same things you would expect him to feel. But he's not tainted by the previous cars.”

“So he takes it as it is and tells us what he feels are the weaknesses and strengths, and leaves it to the engineers to try to improve those things.

“But he looks like a very promising young driver.”

Is guilt justified?

Toto Wolf

You can't blame Allison, Wolff or anyone within Mercedes for answering frankly questions about Antonelli's progress.

They simply and refreshingly convey the real, sincere enthusiasm of an exciting young talent. Allison's eyes lit up when she talked about how Antonelli seemed to have an ability to adapt beyond his years.

He is not declaring that he will win Mercedes multiple titles or even publicly confirming that Antonelli is the team's first plan, he is simply explaining why Antonelli has been and continues to be an important part of Mercedes' future in Formula One.

Kimi Antonelli

Mercedes has not paraded Antonelli around the Formula 1 paddock at every opportunity since the news of Hamilton's exit as a sort of 'it's okay, we have a solution'. the next Mercedes champion instead last One'. It has allowed Antonelli to focus on performance in his testing program and in Formula 2.

You also can't underestimate the maturity and mental resilience Antonelli has shown.

Despite his rookie mistakes, he seemed unfazed by Prema's difficult start in this new era of Formula 2, and simply resigned himself to working hard with the team to find performance.

Kimi Antonelli

It's the same down-and-dirty attitude and delivery that has impressed Mercedes behind the scenes, and it's proof he'll soon be ready for more. Given his performances in private, making his FP1 debut when Mercedes can give him the super license (he will reach the minimum age of 18 in August) would seem like the next logical step for his preparation and evaluation for 2025.

And of course Mercedes' lack of a title-challenging car at the moment, given their current 4th place finish, makes a potential 2025 seat much less of a pressure cooker and more suitable for Antonelli than a Mercedes seat a few years down the road. It could have been before that.

“But it definitely needs to be delivered in Formula 2 before we think about any of that,” I hear you saying…

Evidence that it has been overrated?

Kimi Antonelli Prima Imola F2 2024

It's all too easy to point out that the first four rounds of a rookie F2 season without a podium is not a track record for a driver clamoring for promotion to the top F1 team.

Antonelli has 36 points, 86 fewer than Leclerc had at this stage during his title-winning Formula 2 season in 2017 – which began with four poles, two wins and three more podiums in the first four rounds.

Charles Leclerc F2 2017

And his rookie season in F2 so far is statistically weaker than the rookie season of every GP2/F2 graduate in F1 now with the exception of Sergio Perez (who had a tough start in 2019 before finishing runner-up in 2010).

But dig deeper into Antonelli's season and you'll find some incredibly promising signs and an important caveat – the Prema team hasn't always had the advantage that the likes of Leclerc enjoyed in 2017.

Formula 2 introduced a new car for the 2024 season this year, just as it did in the first year of the new Formula 1 regulations, shaking up the competitive system between teams and leaving Prema on the defensive after the Bahrain season opener.

Although it is a 'spec series', make no mistake the teams make a huge difference in Formula 2, perhaps more than ever before.

Kimi Antonelli Prima Bahrain F2

Bahrain was a nightmare for Prema, but Antonelli remained his second-season team-mate Uli Biermann the first time he called, albeit 17th instead of 18th in qualifying.

Antonelli fought valiantly in both races and took one point from 17th on the grid in Sunday's feature race, avoiding the pitfall of tire degradation that so many Formula 2 rookies stumble upon and bounce from first-lap contact.

While Biermann took pole in Jeddah but lost it to Ferrari in the Grand Prix, Antonelli was 0.228 seconds clear of his teammate in qualifying and only made an anti-stop and ill-advised move on Jack Crawford which limited his points total to eight points. at the end of this week.

He took another step forward in Melbourne, taking his first Formula 2 class and turning it into a fourth-place finish in the feature race – a result he repeated at Imola, having been twenty times slower than Biermann in qualifying.

Biermann's loss of Jeddah and Dumper unfortunately means Antonelli is the main Prema driver in the standings.

Of course, Biermann's meager 2,024 points total of six (the same number he scored in one F1 appearance), and his proven credentials at the highest level of F1 in Jeddah are compelling evidence that the F2 standings are rarely… An accurate and direct reflection of Formula 1's potential., particularly just four rounds. For Biermann alone, you already have to factor in engine failures, a pole retirement, two pitlane stops while leading, and a fairly harsh penalty for forcing Joshua Doerksen off the track.

But regardless, Antonelli already sits an encouraging sixth in the points despite his many trials and tribulations (starts were a particular handicap), and he's only just starting to race the more popular European tracks he first learned about during his F4 dominating days. And freekeh.

Everything about Antonelli's career so far suggests that there will be a huge and very sharp improvement and that his starting point in Formula 2 is much better than it seems.

Prema makes Bahrain look like nothing more than a weakness and their advantage was always stronger in the coming middle section of the season. This was the cornerstone of the title-winning campaign of the last two Prema champions Mick Schumacher (2020) and Piastri (2021, pictured below).

Oscar Piastri F2 2021

So Antonelli is worth the wait. Yes, Mercedes will risk losing more potential Hamilton replacements the longer it waits, but why rush to pick a driver like Esteban Ocon – a former protégé it had already decided wasn't good enough – when Antonelli has given it every indication so far that he is the better driver. . The right man for 2025?

We don't want to be “somewhat guilty” of the overkill mistake that Mercedes thinks it made too. But it's hard not to with such an exciting prospect that still has so much to offer.


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