until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

Antonelli delivers timely answer to Mercedes' challenge

by Samarth Kanal
5 min read

Mercedes junior and Formula 1 promotion contender Andrea Kimi Antonelli said his maiden Formula 2 race win at Silverstone shows he can handle the pressure - one day after Mercedes boss Toto Wolff challenged the youngster. 

The Italian driver, who entered Silverstone ninth in the standings after two consecutive non-scoring weekends, was on Friday called a “one of a kind” driver by Wolff - yet the Mercedes boss also urged the junior to prove himself after a difficult start to the F2 season.

“His junior formula and go-karting track record is one of a kind. And that's clear that the pressure ramps up. But it's like his father says, a champion needs to be thrown in the cold water and needs to swim,” said Wolff.

After putting in an assured performance to win a dramatic F2 sprint race that started under torrential rain, Antonelli was asked whether this race served as a “showcase” of his mentality.

“Yeah, I have to say, not always I cope very well with pressure,” admitted Antonelli. 

“Obviously, this season, especially this year, I've been under a lot of pressure, to be honest. I have to say today I coped with it pretty well. Still some improvements [needed] because sometimes I still make some mistakes. For example, yesterday in quali I did a mistake in my lap and lost quite a bit of time.

“So definitely, sometimes I still don't perform as [well as] I could [10th fastest], but yeah, I'm trying every time to cope as best as I can with the pressure. 

“And I think today was really the showcase. And actually, yeah, it's a big relief for me because it really takes away a lot of weight from my shoulders and hopefully we can do a good result tomorrow as well.”

The 17-year-old started on reverse-grid pole position and began to stretch his legs in the lead - before an early red flag for worsening conditions brought the field back together for another rolling start. Antonelli faced another restart shortly after when the safety car was deployed for three retirements on lap eight.

It was then that F2 championship leader Paul Aron retired from the race having collided with Pepe Marti. Meanwhile, Aron’s title rival Isack Hadjar got caught out by a wet kerb and beached his car in the gravel. 

Antonelli’s Prema team-mate Oliver Bearman, who was recently confirmed as a Haas F1 driver for 2025, also suffered contrasting fortunes. He picked up front wing damage on lap one and, later on, Bearman took a trip through the gravel - but pulled off a high-speed recovery to continue on. Bearman retired late on in the race with a mechanical issue.

"I don't think that the pressure harms at all the way he performs in the car and how he drives," Wolff said.

"You can clearly see it's a good benchmarking with Ollie Bearman. They are pretty close. Ollie had an obviously very good race in Austria [he won the sprint race] and Kimi on the Sunday, had a clutch release issue in the second race.

"So you've got to swim. That's clear. It was a rapid career progression. He's 17. He hasn't even got a driving license for a road car.

"And the best ones will be able to cope with that, with the amount of scrutiny and the pressure, and it's going to get bigger."

It might have ‘only’ been a reverse-grid sprint race win for Antonelli, but this one took place in treacherous conditions - and was punctuated by numerous incidents.

“Today was a special one because it was my first [win], first of all. And also it's a track I really like, and also the conditions were difficult.

“So that means it’s a special one. And yeah, the next goal is to try and win one in dry conditions,” quipped Antonelli.

Although Prema is historically the most successful F2 team on the grid, it has struggled to set up the new F2 car - while other teams such as Invicta, MP Motorsport and Campos have hit the ground running - and Antonelli has been thrust into F2 without racing in Formula 3. His outlook for the coming races is understandably tempered.

“I mean, we don't really have high expectations,” he said. “I think now we're in a good moment with the team because we're moving forward pretty well. We're working really well and we're finding the way… today has shown that the work we're doing is paying off.”

With his first F2 podium, Antonelli experienced another ‘first’ on Saturday having attended his first post-race F2 press conference. Usually sparsely populated, this one inevitably drew a crowd that was almost exclusively focused on Antonelli - leaving the other two podium finishers, Zane Maloney and Gabriele Bortoleto, to wait out the clock.

“It's been quite tough to manage especially because it [the media attention] all came at once,” said Antonelli. “Luckily I have to say I have good people around me. I have my family, Mercedes, and also my team [Prema], and they've been trying to just protect me.

“Especially because it’s really easy to crack under pressure in this situation. But yeah, I have to say they're really helping me to try to cope with that as best as possible.”

Regardless of whether or not Antonelli graduates to F1 with Mercedes in 2025, it’s clear that he’s all but ready to face the off-track demands of the top tier. And his on-track credentials, meanwhile, have only been bolstered by this stellar drive.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks