Wolff hints at ‘bold’ driver choice to replace Hamilton

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Lewis Hamilton’s decision to leave Mercedes for Ferrari at the end of the Formula One season could lead to a bold choice of replacement, team boss Toto Wolff said on Friday.

The Austrian told reporters that Hamilton’s decision had come too late for them to look at some obvious contenders, with McLaren’s Lando Norris and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc signing new contracts last month.

“The timing bit us a bit,” he said. “But I always like change because change provides you the opportunity.”

The open driver market for 2025 still left plenty of options, with more than half the grid currently out of contract at the end of 2024.

Having race winner George Russell under contract also made the decision on the second seat “much more comfortable” and very different to 2016, when Nico Rosberg stunned F1 by retiring days after winning the title for Mercedes.

“Maybe it’s a chance to do something bold,” suggested Wolff, who said Russell had the potential to be the team’s next big driver after “going to-to-toe” with Hamilton. “He is of the generation of Lando and Leclerc and some of the others and I couldn’t wish for a (better) new team leader when Lewis leaves.

“We have such a solid foundation, such a quick and talented and intelligent guy in the car that we just need to take the right choice for the second seat. And that’s not something I want to be rushed in.” Wolff said he had yet to decide whether to go for experience or a rookie.

Mercedes have promising 17-year-old Italian Andrea Kimi Antonelli on their books and he has been touted as one possible successor but Wolff cautioned against piling pressure on the youngster when asked whether he might be the bold choice

Antonelli has been with Mercedes since he was 11 and has shone in junior series. He is scheduled to race in Formula Two this year.

Wolff said he did not want speculation or rumours to spin the Italian’s mind ahead of the F2 campaign.

“He’s just stepped out of karts a few years ago and he’s not even 18. So I would rather not start any speculation about Kimi going into Formula One at that stage,” he said.