Motor racing-Wolff says Antonelli will be in F1, Vowles plays down Williams seat

Formula One F1 - Pre-Season Testing - Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain - February 21, 2024 Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff during the pre-season testing REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

(Reuters) - Italian teenager Andrea Kimi Antonelli will be in Formula One but Mercedes want to see how he fares in Formula Two before deciding the next step, team boss Toto Wolff said on Wednesday.

The 17-year-old is considered a contender for the seat that will become vacant when seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton leaves Mercedes for Ferrari in 2025.

Wolff said this month that Hamilton's departure could be a chance for a bold move.

"We've got that curveball thrown at us with Lewis in the beginning of February and I want to do the opposite when choosing the driver for next year," Wolff told reporters during pre-season testing in Bahrain.

"It's clear Kimi has been in our junior academy since he was 11 and we have great pleasure in watching him grow as a young man and growing through the ranks, but I also want to take a little bit of pressure off him.

"He's just 17, he's won everything he needed to win in his rookie seasons and I think he's going to be in Formula One. He's going to be a very, very successful driver in Formula One. But he hasn't started his Formula Two campaign yet."

Wolff said there was also a long list of drivers in Formula One who could be available for 2025, with no decision likely any time soon.

Mercedes placed George Russell at Williams to gain experience before he graduated to become Hamilton's team mate and Williams are now run by Wolff's former strategy chief James Vowles.

Vowles was one of those who made the decision to hire Antonelli for the Mercedes junior programme but he warned against assuming the Italian would follow Russell's example.

"I have no doubt that Kimi will be in Formula One," he said. "He's done incredibly well in his junior series. But that doesn't mean he'll be in Williams necessarily.

"I'm fortunate enough to have two juniors myself in F2 and F3... so we're starting to build a programme to develop the next generation of drivers."

Vowles said current drivers Alex Albon, who could be a target for other teams including Mercedes and Red Bull, were both under contract.

"It's just a question of seeing how everything plays out across the net six months," he added.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Christian Radnedge)

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