F1 Junior Andrea Kimi Antonelli on pressure: ‘Mercedes wants me to win the championship’

Born in 2006, Andrea Kimi Antonelli has been touted as a future F1 star from a very young age. The Italian was signed to the Mercedes Academy in 2018 and he has since won the European Karting title twice, as well as taking podiums in Italian F4 and F4 UAE. F1 Feeder Series had a chat with the young man about his goals for this season and the involvement of Mercedes in his career.

By Alexander Studenkov

The fact that Antonelli became interested in motorsport seems inevitable, as his dad Marco Antonelli was a successful racing driver in Italy and has founded his own team, AKM Motorsport, which competes in GT3 and F4. Antonelli junior credits his father as being the driving force behind his career.

“The passion has been transmitted by my dad. As soon as I was born, he would bring me to the races, and from that moment I started to build my passion for motorsport. Once I got into a go-kart, I fell in love with it; then at the age of eight I started to race properly.”

He entered the European karting scene in 2015, winning the Easykart International Grand Final in the Easy 60 class. From there Antonelli didn’t look back, with multiple titles going to him in the following years.

The Mercedes opportunity

Tasting so much success at such an early stage of his career put Antonelli under the radar of Formula One academy bosses, with two teams in particular having an eye out for the then twelve-year-old: Ferrari and Mercedes.

Queried about his choice of the German manufacturer over the legendary Italian team by F1 Feeder Series, Antonelli replied:

“Actually, I was too young to be part of the Ferrari driver programme; at the time Arrivabene was controlling the whole thing.

“Suddenly, after me and my dad were coming back from a go-kart race, we got the call from Mercedes asking if I wanted to join their programme instead, and of course we didn’t say no. We decided to go with Mercedes straight away because it was a big opportunity.”

I was too young to be part of the Ferrari driver programme

Andrea Kimi Antonelli

The team helped Antonelli with two main things during his time in karting: budget and training, support that the young man himself believes to have been immensely important for his progression.

Only now with his entry into single-seaters however has the team set out a roadmap for Antonelli’s progression within the feeder series ladder:

“Now we’re starting to make a plan, and of course the best idea is to do one year per category, but of course I need to deliver. At the moment, that is the plan if everything goes well.”

Andrea Kimi Antonelli (Prema) during the ADAC F4 opening round of 2022 | Credit: ADAC

Formula 4

Antonelli repaid the faith Mercedes showed in him by winning a myriad of karting championships, which included the WSK Euro Series twice, the WSK Super Master Series and his crowning achievement, becoming back-to-back European karting champion.

Shortly after his 2021 title and 15th birthday Antonelli received a late call to make his F4 debut with Prema at the Red Bull Ring. Following two learning weekends he finished on the podium in all three races at the Monza Circuit, securing tenth in the championship.

“I had some opportunities to do nine or ten days of testing with my dad, so I could adapt very quickly because of the tests in F4”, Antonelli stated.

I feel ready for this season because I had the opportunity to do the three rounds last year

Andrea Kimi Antonelli

“We decided to move into cars [mid-season] because we thought it was going to be really helpful to be as ready as possible for this season. Last year there were some really experienced drivers [at Prema] and I learned a lot from them.

“The car is really different to a go-kart, especially the size. You need to take the measures between cars in the midfield, the car is way more fragile – the front wing can break easily. I feel ready for this season because I had the opportunity to do the three rounds last year.”

At the start of this season Antonelli made his first steps in the new F4 chassis, taking part in two rounds of F4 UAE and winning two races at Yas Marina.

Under pressure?

With these impressive results as a driver with limited experience in single-seaters however come expectations, not just from the media but also from the academy boss, Gwen Lagrue. Asked about the aims Mercedes has set for his season, Antonelli answered:

“Mercedes would like me to win the championship. They believe in me, so that actually motivates me a lot. No matter how many wins or podiums: winning the title is the main goal for me and for Mercedes as well.”

No matter how many wins or podiums: winning the title is the main goal for me and for Mercedes as well

Andrea Kimi Antonelli

As the title favourite going into the season, one would think that pressure would inevitably come into play for Antonelli. However, the Prema driver rejected the idea of any niggling anxieties in his mind:

“To be honest I don’t really feel a lot of pressure. I know there are high expectations for the Italian Championship, but as always, I’ll try to do my best. I know I can do well.”

Andrea Kimi Antonelli
Andrea Kimi Antonelli (Prema) on the ADAC F4 podium at Spa | Credit: ADAC

The driver to beat?

“I know it’s not gonna be easy. My teammates look really strong, and so do some other guys like Dunne, Amand, Bedrin, who raced in Italy last year, and Taylor Barnard. Of course, I see myself as one of the favourites, but I will see others as favourites too because they are really strong.

“I think I can do really well, because the tests that I’ve done so far went really well. The speed is really good.”

Antonelli has started his European season at Spa-Francorchamps with a pair of victories, currently planning to compete in the first half of ADAC F4 alongside his Italian F4 campaign.

Header photo credit: Prema Racing

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