Mercedes' teenage sensation Andrea Kimi Antonelli made his Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine debut over the weekend, competing in two races at Imola to kickstart the season.
The 16-year-old is widely regarded as the hottest young prospect on the junior series ladder after finishing on the podium in all 18 rounds of the ADAC Formula 4 Championship in 2022.
Antonelli opted against the step up to Formula 3 in 2023, instead taking the conventional path through the FRECA series.
The FRECA grid is often stacked with top-level talent, with F3 frontrunners Dino Beganovic, Gabriel Bortoleto and Gabriele Mini all graduating from the series last season.
A member of the Mercedes driver academy, Antonelli is seen as the team's next elite-level talent – with the teenager's name already well known despite his tender age.
Podium on debut
Antonelli went into the opening round of the season off the back of a strong qualifying session in which the Italian driver secured a front-row start alongside Norweigian rookie Martinius Stenshorne.
The Italian struggled to match the pace of Stenshorne for the most part but defended well from Prema Racing team-mate Rafael Camara before a late safety car closed up the field with less than eight minutes remaining.
His No.12 car retained P2 at the restart before a red flag brought an end to Saturday's running.
Speaking after the first race of the weekend, Antonelli stated: “It was not an easy race. I had a few issues during the race. I think we managed really well, especially with push to pass. Good result today, we will try to improve tomorrow.”
If Saturday's race represented an impressive FRECA debut, Sunday's was a write-off before the lights had even gone out.
An electrical issue in qualifying ensured that Antonelli would start Imola's second race from the back of the field.
The Italian driver's efforts were ultimately in vain after persistent mechanical issues forced Antonelli into the pits for an early retirement.
Stenshorne followed up his race one win with a P2 finish on Sunday, while Dutch driver Kas Haverkort, starting second on the grid, claimed his third career FRECA victory.
With two races completed, the 16-year-old Antonelli sits third in the overall standings, albeit a long way back from championship leader Stenshorne ahead of the second round of the season in Barcelona.
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