Daniel Ricciardo cops blow as front-runner emerges for Lewis Hamilton's vacant seat

Mercedes have reportedly set their sights on teen Andrea Kimi Antonelli as Lewis Hamilton's replacement.

Pictured L-R: Daniel Ricciardo, Andrea Kimi Antonelli, Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes are reportedly set to sign teenager Andrea Kimi Antonelli as Lewis Hamilton's replacement, with the team believing he is the "next Max Verstappen". Image: Getty

Daniel Ricciardo's hopes of being named as Lewis Hamilton's replacement have taken a hit as Mercedes have reportedly turned their attention to Italian teenager Andrea Kimi Antonelli. Speculation continues to swirl over who will replace Hamilton in 2025 after the seven-time world champion announced he will vacate his seat to head to Ferrari at the end of the upcoming season.

Antonelli - who goes by Kimi rather than Andrea- is part of Mercedes' junior team and is set to compete in Formula 2 this year. The Silver Arrows are said to have high hopes for the 17-year-old, believing he is "the next Max Verstappen". Sky Sports' Ted Kravitz believes Mercedes will ultimately pair the youngster with George Russell in 2025 as they view the teenager as the future of their team.

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"There are so many options for Mercedes and quite a lot of them are quite good," Kravitz told Sky Sports UK ahead of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix. "Obviously the most exciting from Mercedes' point of view is to put Andrea Kimi Antonelli in the car because they feel he is the next Max Verstappen or Charles Leclerc, he's that promising.

"At the same time, they’ll only know that when he completes at least half a full Formula 2 season, and I believe Toto Wolff when he says that we have to be careful to treat him like a 17-year-old still growing up and not try to rush him too early. It might do more harm than good. But that's clearly their number one priority. They don’t have Williams as a junior team to put Antonelli in.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 24: Andrea Kimi Antonelli of Italy and PREMA Racing prepares to drive in the Paddock prior to during the Formula 2 Shakedown at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on January 24, 2024 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Eric Alonso - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images)
Andrea Kimi Antonelli is part of Mercedes' junior team and is set to compete in Formula 2 this year. (Eric Alonso - Formula 1 via Getty Images)

"Williams have made it pretty clear that they’re not in that game for Antonelli, they’re not going to be the university for him in the way they were for George Russell. I think that makes it probably most likely that they’ll go with Antonelli because they don’t want to see him go to another team, but it does depend on his F2 season."

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says the team aren't planning on naming Ferrari-bound Hamilton's replacement anytime soon but view Antonelli as a strong option. "We got that curveball thrown at us with Lewis at the beginning of February and I want to do the opposite when choosing the driver for next year," said Wolff.

"It's clear Kimi has been in our junior academy since he was 11 and we have had 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 turned 17. He's won everything he needed to win in his rookie season, but I think he is going to be in Formula 1.

"He's going to be a very, very successful driver in Formula 1. But he hasn't started his Formula 2 campaign yet. They had a difficult test in the first days in Bahrain and we shall see how he develops. That's why I want to want to wait out the first few (F2) races that are actually going to go with Formula 1. There are many very good pilots in Formula 1 available for next year or so and this is all going to come into the equation when deciding on the driver line-up for next year, but that's not going to happen anytime soon."

Daniel Ricciardo focussed on returning to the F1

Ricciardo started last year as a reserve driver for Red Bull but was promptly promoted to a full-time driver with their junior team AlphaTauri - now known as Visa Cash App RB - as he continues to make tracks towards a position in an F1 main team. As a result of some fine form last season, the Aussie was floated as a potential No.2 driver to Red Bull's Max Verstappen but team boss Christian Horner recently confirmed Sergio Perez would retain his main team seat in 2024.

Following the Hamilton development, Ricciardo was immediately linked with a potential switch to the Silver Arrows but since then the likes of Antonelli, Max Verstappen, Fernando Alonso and fellow Aussie Oscar Piastri have also all been linked to the seat.

When asked if he was open to the move earlier this month, Ricciardo refused to speculate on what his future may hold, stating that he is only focused on doing his job for Red Bull. "I'm definitely not looking that far ahead," Ricciardo said. "At this part of my career, looking ahead feels a bit like a year closer to the end. So it’s more reason for me to be there now and really take it race by race.

"I guess in their (Mercedes’) position, they are in no rush. So they will judge everyone, how they are doing, the driver market, whatever. So I think this is a good position for them. Part of me is also happy not to be involved in all this crazy stuff, especially this early in the season. So if the silly season happens without me, that's fine with me at this point."

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