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Formula 1

Two key FIA rule changes open door to early Antonelli F1 debut

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

Two tweaks to the FIA’s Formula 1 superlicence rules have opened the door for Kimi Antonelli to make an early official debut this year, even if it is only in a practice session.

The 17-year-old Formula 2 rookie is widely expected to step up to F1 next season with Mercedes, in place of Ferrari-bound Lewis Hamilton. However, the door is now open to an earlier move should it be desired.

There had been talk of a possible early graduation to make his debut with Williams in 2024, in place of the struggling Logan Sargeant – who is set to lose his seat for 2025 anyway, with Sainz the number one target to replace him.

The FIA’s superlicence regulations presented two hurdles though. They require a driver to be 18 years old and have a valid driving licence – Antonelli is not 18 until August and cannot get a driving licence in his native Italy before then either.

That would mean waiting until the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, the last race of the European season – and therefore the end of a run of tracks Antonelli already knows. It would also come with the pressure of being his home race.

Now though, the FIA International Sporting Code has been updated, eradicating the need for a driving licence and adding a provision that “at the sole discretion of the FIA, a driver judged to have recently and consistently demonstrated outstanding ability and maturity in single-seater formula car competition may be granted a superlicence at the age of 17 years old”.

Antonelli has had such success so far, winning a pair of Formula 4 titles and a pair of Formula Regional titles, that he already has the required number of superlicence points to race in F1.

So he would presumably get that FIA discretion, with further evidence of his ability and maturity being running a competitive sixth in the F2 standings after his first five events.


Andrea Kimi Antonelli, F2

Whether this changes anything for Antonelli ultimately depends on what Mercedes wants.

Giving him a 2025 race seat is a desire driven by Mercedes’ faith in its young driver’s prodigious talent and team principal Toto Wolff wanting to make amends for missing out on Max Verstappen, who joined the Red Bull stable a decade ago instead of Mercedes because Red Bull could offer him an immediate move into F1.

Wolff pretty much reiterated this intention at the Canadian Grand Prix when explaining why Carlos Sainz is effectively out of the running to replace Hamilton as Mercedes wants to wait to be sure Antonelli is ready.

"He [Sainz] has done a fantastic job but for us, we've embarked on a route now, we want to reinvent ourselves a little bit going forward,” said Wolff. “And Kimi Antonelli definitely plays a part in that.

Andrea Kimi Antonelli and Toto Wolff

“We haven't taken the decision yet for next year but we didn't want to have Carlos wait as well, because he needs to take the decisions for himself and that's just fair.”

Antonelli’s Mercedes chance looks on course to become reality as he is finding more consistency in his F2 campaign but crucially – and more relevantly – is impressing Mercedes with his private F1 testing programme.

This began in a 2021 car but has since moved onto 2022 car running to give him a taste of ground-effect machinery.


George Russell, Mercedes, F1

When Antonelli was first linked with an in-season Williams move it was considered most likely if he would then have a multi-year apprenticeship at the team before joining Mercedes when he has more experience – as current Mercedes driver George Russell did.

That does not tally with Antonelli immediately joining Mercedes in 2025, and it may be that there is little to be gained – for Antonelli but also Williams – from the big effort and disruption of a mid-2024 move when it would only be for a few months.

However, it could give Antonelli a head start, and with Sargeant struggling so much irrespective of car specification differences due to Williams’s various problems this year, Williams might get a boost from it as well if Antonelli hit the ground running.

Logan Sargeant, Williams, F1

But Mercedes made it clear last month, and has effectively stressed the same point since, that it does not want to rush Antonelli.

So, a 2024 race seat may not make sense, and it may not be the plan anyway. Because the rules that have changed apply also to the Friday free practice-only superlicence, not just the one required to race.

It stands to reason that Antonelli will not only drive the Mercedes in the two mandatory rookie FP1 sessions this season but will be given as many opportunities as possible to build experience of grand prix weekends and the current car.

The rule changes will allow him to do that before Monza, too - giving him potential practice opportunities in Spain, Austria, Britain, Hungary, Belgium and the Netherlands.

This would be a logical use of the opportunities afforded by the FIA's changes.

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