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Will F1 hopeful Antonelli replace Sargeant from Imola?

Will F1 hopeful Antonelli replace Sargeant from Imola?

Will F1 hopeful Antonelli replace Sargeant from Imola?

Will F1 hopeful Antonelli replace Sargeant from Imola?

Mercedes junior driver Andrea Kimi Antonelli continues to play a surprise keystone role in the Formula 1 driver market as we progress through 2024.

It's an unexpected development for a driver who only began racing cars two years ago to have his name tossed so often this silly season.

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Yet it's indicative of the F1 landscape that Lewis Hamilton's Ferrari switch has altered so much.

The latest in the Antonelli saga is the Joe Saward-originated speculation that Williams is seeking to place the young Italian in one of their cars as soon as the Emilia Romagna GP.

With Logan Sargeant trailing Alex Albon by default in every session, questions about the American's longevity are inevitable, but is Antonelli the answer to James Vowles' woes?

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Antonelli has won championships

Andrea Kimi Antonelli's accolades

Looking at Antonelli's racing history – and there's a surprising amount of it for such a relatively inexperienced driver – the Mercedes junior's reputation is justified.

He has won every car racing championship where he completed the season and has done so on his first attempt in each.

In only two years, there are four titles under Antonelli's belt, plus an F4 gold medal in the 2022 Motorsport Games, the FIA's attempt at a racing Olympics.

Even today, the attention on this 17-year-old Italian doesn't seem to phase him, but it's not surprising after he joined Mercedes' Junior Programme in April 2019.

Backing from the then-dominant Brackley team for a karting driver effectively put a target on Antonelli's 13-year-old back as rivals who beat him could boast that they should have the three-pointed star on their overalls instead.

He would prove Mercedes was right to pick him, of course, storming to CIK-FIA and WSK wins in OKJ and OK karting classes in 2020 and 2021.

Just two full seasons since his competitive karting races finished, he now sits on the brink of completing his junior driver journey.

READ MORE: Schumacher reveals how Mercedes could snare Verstappen

Is Antonelli struggling in F2?

F2's new 2024 chassis

Some have pointed to a tepid start in this season's F2 table, where Antonelli currently sits P9, 38 points behind championship leader Zane Maloney, as proof that he isn't the golden child that others claim.

That argument seems to have an F1-based approach, where a season's protagonists become apparent in the opening rounds, but that's not the case in F1's feeder series.

The 2020 F2 champion Mick Schumacher was 42 points behind the leader at the same stage, for example, and Antonelli himself was 29 points adrift of P1 after three rounds in last year's Formula Regional standings.

It also overlooks a glaring fact that has hamstrung Antonelli in 2024 – he has never before raced in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, or Melbourne, F2's opening trio of rounds.

With the upcoming eight F2 weekends coming at far more familiar European tracks, the footing will be more level for him... if he's not in F1 already, that is.

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Arguments against Antonelli

PREMA would need a new driver

However, it's not an unfair question to wonder whether his stepping up to Formula 1 in 2024 is too much too soon.

Antonelli is below the FIA's 18-year-old minimum age, although Mercedes and Williams could lobby to allow for an exemption.

Also, jumping from F3-like machinery, as Antonelli raced last year, to an F1 car for 2024 is a sizeable ask, especially with so little running of the F2 chassis.

Furthermore, PREMA, Antonelli's team and the outfit behind Charles Leclerc and Oscar Piastri's F2 successes would also need to find a replacement driver.

While there's no shortage of drivers waiting to jump into an F1 car, the entire F2 business model comes from drivers paying six- or seven-figure sums for their entry.

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Sargeant's struggles

Sargeant is under pressure

Assuming that the FIA waves Antonelli through... And that his recent Spielberg test demonstrated handling an F1 car is no hurdle... And PREMA get paid or find a replacement financier... How likely even is a Williams seat?

There's no denying that Sargeant is the second driver in the team and is the driver that would face the axe; dropping him for the Australian GP made that publicly clear.

Albon scored 27 of their 28 points to see them finish P7 in 2023. With Alpine falling into the bottom five constructors, P6 - and millions in prize money - is up for grabs if Williams can pick up enough top-10 finishes in 2024.

Sargeant has a P14 finish as his best result this year, while Albon boasts two P11s, albeit with one of those achieved in Sargeant's Melbourne chassis. Even so, it's not a good look.

Would Antonelli fare any better than the American by parachuting into Grove without an off-season to help prepare to drive one of the 20 most complex cars on the planet?

Probably not. Not initially, at least. But if pointless finishes are likely anyway, there's an argument that Williams could benefit from Saward's touted 18-month loan by having a better driver in 2025 to continue their recovery towards the front.

READ MORE: Audi agree LONG-TERM F1 deal with star driver

Is Williams a Mercedes B-team?

Russell raced for Williams

Williams acting as an incubator team for Mercedes worked in the past when George Russell drove for them between 2019 and 2021.

By 2022, Mercedes inherited a driver well-versed in F1's weekend schedule, the season calendar, and dozens more races of experience than had they immediately swapped him for Valtteri Bottas.

Testing Antonelli at Williams, presumably in return for a hefty power unit discount, would allow Mercedes to be better placed in deciding if their junior is the team's future for the 2026 regulation change.

If not, they'd have the time to look elsewhere for a long-term solution without taking any risks themselves.

Williams, however, is under new management where their historic financial concerns aren't as troubling, and their own Academy is far more potent than when Russell joined in 2019.

They'd potentially gain a generational talent in the short-term, but with the knowledge he'd likely follow Russell and soon leave them in the same driver dire straits.

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More Mercedes misery

Mercedes need a driver

Mercedes, too, would need to find a driver for 2025 to plug the Hamilton-shaped hole they have.

They would need to lure interested parties in with a 12-month contract that has very little chance of being extended.

That's not a tantalising prospect while the team can barely reach the podium, let alone allow a possibility of a single-season championship challenge.

They've already seen Hamilton leaving partly because of a desire for a multi-season contract, and every other top driver would demand the same.

No one would want to be a placeholder name to keep the seat warm for a teenager who hasn't even raced in F1, let alone anyone with championship-contending credentials.

So, yes, Antonelli replacing Sargeant for Imola would transform a relatively lacklustre 2024 season into some must-see TV of Saward's F1 fantasy.

But while Sargeant's remaining time at the top appears short, Antonelli's admittedly inevitable ascent is still a while away.

READ MORE: Newey's wife 'scoping out properties' in MAJOR hint over next move


Mercedes Lewis Hamilton Formula 1 Williams 2024 Andrea Kimi Antonelli
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