Mercedes completes secret test with Schumacher and Antonelli

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Mercedes have completed another test session with Formula 2 driver Andrea Kimi Antonelli as speculations continue to rumble on that the young Italian could make his grand prix debut as early as this year.

Since seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton announced his shock departure from Mercedes in early February, the F1 world has been in speculation on who can take over his race seat from next year.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has confirmed several times that he will take his time to take a final decision about Hamilton's replacement. After early speculations suggested that Carlos Sainz could join Mercedes, swapping effectively teams with Hamilton, two other drivers have been tipped as possible replacements.

Following the turmoil at Red Bull, Max Verstappen is considered as Wolff's favourite replacement, and it is believed that the Austrian has already held talks with the reigning world champion's management headed by Raymond Vermeulen.

What is possible for Antonelli?

However, many believe that Mercedes's young driver Andrea Kimi Antonelli could also be an option, despite his young age and lack of experience. The fact that the Anglo-German team has staged multiple test sessions with the Italian also confirms that Wolff believes in Antonielli's capabilities.

The Bologna native is currently competing in the 2024 Formula 2 Championship with Prema Racing. Having completed three rounds (six races), he is currently in ninth position in the Drivers' Championship. He scored in four of six races, having secured his best result in the feautre race of Round 3 of the season, in Melbourne.

He participated in the Italian Formula 4 Championship at the age of just 15, and won this series in the following year. In 2022, he also competed in the German ADAC Formula 4 where he also finished on top. Having stepped up into the Formula Regional European Championship last year, he became the third Formula Regional European Championship in his debut year after Grégoire Saucy and Dino Beganovic.

The last few weeks saw Antonelli carry out three test sessions with Mercedes. The Italian first took part in a two-day test session, driving the 2021 F1 Mercedes car at the Red Bull Ring. The opening day was hindered by rain and snowfall, but he could rack up mileage in the three-year-old Mercedes on Day 2.

The Brackley-based outfit then headed to Imola for another test with the Italian youngster getting behind the wheel of a two-year-old W13, gaining his first mileages in a current generation F1 car. The sporting rule that is referred to as Testing of Previous Cars allows teams to perform test sessions with cars that are at least two years old.

During the Imola test run, Antonelli completed an impressive outing in the W13, having displayed not only eye-catching pace in low-fuel configuration, but also performing consistent lap times during his long runs.

Mercedes continued to provide Antonelli with the opportunity of racking up mileage behind F1 cars. The Italian was handed another test outing this week at Silverstone where he got behind the wheel of the two-year-old W13 once again. The early part of the day saw Mercedes reserve driver Mick Schumacher get behind the wheel of the W13 as the team wanted to have a baseline setup for the day.

After the morning session, Antonelli took over the car to continue his development programme. The team did not disclose his lap times, but it is understood that the Italian completed his third test outing as smoothly as his previous two at the Red Bull Ring and Imola.

No debut in Imola

Speaking of Antonelli's path into motorsport, Wolff said: “I’m really keen and happy to see him in a Formula 1 car. He’s been with us since he was 11. I have a picture of him standing next to me on the centre console as a baby boy in go-karting, and now to witness that development into a Formula 1 driver is something that I’m really proud of.”

Ahead of the Miami Grand Prix, it has been emerged that Antonelli could join Williams as early as at next weekend's Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, taking over the race seat of Logan Sargeant, who has a tough start to his second season in F1.

It was even suggested that Mercedes requested special dispensation from the FIA to grant 17-year-old sensation a super license that would allow him to drive in F1 before his 18th birthday in late August.

Speaking of the speculations about a possible debut, Williams team boss James Vowles confirmed that Antonelli will not make his debut in Imola: “There was a rumour going around he’ll be in the car for Imola – he won’t be in the car for Imola,” Vowles said during the Miami Grand Prix weekend of 17-year-old Antonelli.

“What we’re doing at the moment is evaluating drivers for ’26 and ’25, and what we really want is the right driver pairing for those two years, because when you go through a regulation change, you really don’t want to be changing drivers in ’26, so you’re looking for the right pairing for that period of time.

“There’s no doubt he’s got huge skill to him, but he was in a Formula 4 car 20 months ago. That’s where he is, it’s a very different proposition to most. We’ve been talking to four or five drivers at the moment for that period of time, and I’m quite happy to sit back a little bit and wait.”