2024 season, Opinion

Kimi Antonelli: The Future of Mercedes F1

Hi, everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve written here, as I’ve been working on editing a long-form interview for the blog’s YouTube channel. I’ve also recently started sixth form, so things are back to being hectic with school. However, as always, I’m staying up to date in following motorsport – from F1 to regional F4 championships.

I love many things about this sport, including the chance to witness incredible junior talent. One driver has stood out to me in a feeder series with spectacular domination. That driver is none other than Mercedes junior Andrea Kimi Antonelli.

So, who is Kimi Antonelli?

The seventeen-year-old Italian racer began karting in his home country at the age of seven. After winning the Easykart International Grand Final in 2015 (Easy 60 category), Antonelli was also victorious in the WSK Champions Cup in 2018 (60 Mini class) and the South Garda Winter Cup (Mini ROK). Entering the OKJ class the next year (for drivers aged 11 to 15), he continued to win karting championships, such as the South Garda Winter Cup again, the WSK Super Master and Euro Series’, as well as the WSK Final Cup. To emphasize how impressive this is, previous notable champions of the WSK Euro Series include Max Verstappen, Lando Norris and IndyCar Champion Álex Palou.

Credit: Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team

2019 was a pivotal year for Antonelli. In light of his championship wins, Mercedes recognised his potential by signing him to their junior programme at just 12 years old.

Antonelli concluded his time in karting by winning the CIK-FIA European Championship in the OK/KF2 category (for drivers aged 14 and older). By doing so, Antonelli again joined the company of earlier champions like Max Verstappen, Callum Ilott, and Christian Lundgaard. In contrast though, he didn’t win just once, but two years running.

Antonelli began his racing career in 2021, taking part in a few Italian F4 and FIA Central European Zone F4 races and building experience. He ended the season by joining the last round of the F4 UAE Championship – the trophy round, where he finished third.

Credit: Prema Powerteam

It was in 2022 that he caught the attention of motorsport news – when he won 13 of the 20 races in the competitive Italian F4 championship. He took pole position 14 times and finished on the podium 15 times. He won the championship with a 104 point lead over Alex Dunne, the driver in second. Antonelli took the title in the ADAC (or German) F4 Championship in a similarly dominant manner, winning 9 of 15 races and finishing on the podium 12 times.

To round out his season, in October, Antonelli participated in the FIA Motorsport Games F4 Cup. Each driver represented their home country, competing in equal machinery. Antonelli took pole, the race win, and the fastest laps for Italy. His pole position time was almost 7 tenths faster than P2 – in the same car. In the so-called ‘qualifying race’, Antonelli won again, and this time by 8 tenths. He finished the main race in the same exemplary style, crossing the line first by 6.9 seconds.

This year’s performance has been no different for Antonelli. He has won both the Formula Regional Middle East and the Formula Regional European Championships.

Credit: Niels Broekema/Dutch Photo Agency

I began watching Antonelli’s races this season in the Formula Regional European Championship (FRECA). Whilst it has been a season of consistency rather than domination, his talent is still clear. Securing podium finishes in 11 out of 20 races so far demonstrates a maturity in his driving style – the kind that often takes years to develop.

It’s probably clear that I strongly believe in the potential that Antonelli is showing. I have faith that he will have a very successful future in this sport. I was debating whether to write this post over the summer, unsure how it would shape up. But it was FRECA’s second race in Zandvoort that convinced me. Starting P8, Antonelli fought his way up the field to take the top step of the podium. Not just by any margin though. By over 12 seconds.

Junior racing has a reputation for being close and competitive. Drivers often succeed by the smallest gaps. An example that comes to mind is the 2020 F3 Championship, where Oscar Piastri won the title by three points over Victor Martins. Despite this though, Antonelli is proving that whatever championship he is in, he’s there to win.

Credit: Autosport

I started writing this article a week ago, when Kimi’s plans for 2024 had not been announced yet. However, on Monday it was confirmed that the rumours circulating were true. Prema Racing’s F2 lineup next year will include Antonelli.

While this decision to skip F3 certainly has its risks, it’s the right choice. Mercedes have found an invaluable junior talent in Antonelli, and they need to capitalize on it. By allowing him the chance to prove himself earlier, Mercedes give themselves more options for the years ahead.

At this point, I’d honestly go as far as to say that Antonelli shows the signs of a future F1 World Champion. I know that’s a bold statement. However, I truly believe that the level of talent Antonelli has displayed in his short racing career is unparalleled. Collecting five titles in two years is an immense feat and one that gives him a good starting point for F2 next season. Toto Wolff clearly has faith in his talent too, stating that Antonelli is “ticking all the boxes” with his racing.

And while Hamilton is still scoring well for Mercedes, it’s likely that he won’t stay in the sport for too much longer. This presents an issue for Mercedes, as they only have 3 junior programme drivers racing full-time. It is unsure as to who will be the driver to replace Hamilton. But by placing Antonelli in an F2 seat next year, Mercedes has put him in contention for that future position, maybe after a rookie year with a customer team like Williams.

F1 teams have taken risks on young drivers before. Sometimes it doesn’t work out – experience and the building of skill are crucial. But other times it leads to the discovery of incredible promise.

Cover Image Credit: ACI Sport