Mercedes junior driver Kimi Antonelli has been labelled the “best driver in a Formula Three car since Max Verstappen“. The 17-year-old will skip F3 entirely and jump straight up to F2 this year, in which he will race for Prema Racing.
But on a private test day recently, the Italian got behind the wheel of an F3 car and made a significant impression. A member of Mercedes’ junior programme since 2019, there are huge hopes for Antonelli who has already won a number of single-seater titles.
And Sky Sports F1 pundit Karun Chandhok has revealed that motorsport insiders are already comparing the teenager to Red Bull’s Verstappen. A three-time world champion, Verstappen debuted in F1 at just 17 with Toro Rosso.
After just 23 races he was promoted to Red Bull in place of Daniil Kvyat and won on his debut at the Spanish Grand Prix, aged 18 years and 228 days. That made him the youngest ever race winner in the sport’s history.
Chandhok posted on X (formerly Twitter): “From everything I hear of Antonelli, he’s pretty damn special. Spoke with the F3 engineers who ran him recently on a private test day.
“Said he was the best driver in an F3 car since Verstappen! McLaren gamble with rookie Lewis in 2007 worked out.” Such is Antonelli’s promise that even though he has yet to drive in F2, nevermind in F1, he is being considered as an option to replace the great Lewis Hamilton.
The Silver Arrows’ team principal, Toto Wolff, has already confirmed he’s ready to make a risky call over replacing the 39-year-old all-time great. The Austrian said: “Change provides you with opportunity. I’m really looking forward to taking the right decisions for the team, together with my colleagues, over who’s going to be in the seat next year.
“Maybe it’s a chance to do something bold. We’ve such a solid foundation, such a quick and talented and intelligent guy [George Russell] in a car that we just need to take the right choice for the second driver, the second seat.”
He added specifically of Antonelli: “Kimi’s been with Mercedes since he was 11. 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 One at that stage.”
Wolff insisted that he will not rush into a decision, giving Antonelli time to impress in F2. Should he position himself at the front of the grid consistently for Prema, then he will be very high up on the list of candidates to replace Hamilton.