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Formula 1

“Strongest Position”: Toto Wolff Names Top Favorite for Vacant Mercedes Seat

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Lewis Hamilton will leave Mercedes at the end of the year. Toto Wolff is already searching for a successor and has a clear favorite in mind.

On February 1, the spectacular switch of seven-time World Champion Hamilton from Mercedes to Ferrari was announced. At the end of the year, the 39-year-old Brit will leave the Silver Arrows to join the iconic Italian team. This move was made possible by an exit clause in Hamilton’s contract, which was originally for two years. With Mercedes, Hamilton secured six Drivers’ World Championships.

Hamilton’s transfer significantly stirred the driver market, as the Silver Arrows now need a successor. Carlos Sainz, the only non-Red Bull driver to win Grand Prix since the start of the 2023 season, but who now has to make way for Hamilton, was mentioned.

Veterans like Fernando Alonso, whose contract with Aston Martin expires at the end of the year, and former Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon were also considered. Even three-time World Champion Max Verstappen was suggested, who might leave his Red Bull team amid the scandal involving team boss Christian Horner.

Antonelli is the top favorite

Yet, the leading candidate is someone else, as Wolff confirmed to Xinhua: the 17-year-old rising star Andrea Kimi Antonelli.

“He is definitely a very strong contender,” said the Viennese about the talented Mercedes junior driver. The Italian skipped Formula 3 and is currently active in Formula 2. “I want to see how the F2 season unfolds. I have no doubts about his speed, talent, and abilities,” praised Wolff.

Antonelli has been part of the Mercedes junior program since 2019, impressing initially in karting. “We wouldn’t support him until today if we weren’t convinced that he has the potential for Formula 1 and for Mercedes. Many young drivers have shown that this step is possible,” reflected Wolff.

“We are taking that risk”

Next week, the 17-year-old will conduct his first Formula 1 test at the Red Bull Ring, driving a Mercedes from 2021. Testing in the “king class” of motorsports is only allowed in cars that are two years old. Antonelli must wait until August to act as a Friday test driver, when he turns 18.

Therefore, Wolff wants to take his time with the driver decision. He is also aware that he has the only cockpit in a top team to offer, should Sergio Perez stay with Red Bull. “I don’t want to rush because Kimi is part of our plans for next year and is actually in the strongest position. And therefore, we need not hurry,” emphasized the Mercedes team boss.

“Some other top drivers will soon make a decision, but my feeling tells me that I should not make the decision too hastily,” Wolff said, referring to Sainz, who recently announced he want to clarify their future soon.

Sainz is being considered by Red Bull, Aston Martin, and Sauber, which is becoming an Audi factory team. Therefore, there is a risk for Mercedes of being left without a top driver should Antonelli not perform well in the tests. “We are taking that risk,” said Wolff.

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