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Andrea Kimi Antonelli, a 2025 contender to replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes, in first Formula 1 test

Italian teenager Andrea Kimi Antonelli enjoys the "incredible experience" of driving an F1 car for the first time with Mercedes; watch the return of the Chinese GP - including the first Sprint of the season - this weekend on Sky Sports F1, with Sunday's race at 8am

Image: Andrea Kimi Antonelli completed 500km across two days in Mercedes' W12 car at the Red Bull Ring

Mercedes protege Andrea Kimi Antonelli, a leading contender to replace Ferrari-bound Lewis Hamilton next season, completed his first F1 test with the team in Austria on Wednesday.

The 17-year-old, currently in his maiden season of Formula 2, drove Mercedes' 2021 car, their last constructors' championship-winning machine, at the Red Bull Ring as the first part of a wider programme to help him acclimatise to F1 machinery.

In a video posted on social media after two days in Austria in which he completed 500km, Antonelli said: "It has been an incredible experience.

"I loved every second of it.

"First day didn't go as planned - we got some snow unfortunately, so we couldn't really drive - but the second day was dry and got quite a lot of laps [completed], and it was really good fun.

"Want to thank all the team for all their hard work. Exited for what's coming."

Antonelli's Mercedes testing programme begins

Italian teenager Antonelli is a rising star of motorsport and has been on Mercedes' books as a junior driver since 2019, when he was 12 years old.

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After consistent title-winning performances in single-seater series up to now, including winning the Formula Regional European Championship last year, Antonelli has bypassed F3 completely and is racing this year in F2 with the Prema team, where he is team-mate to Britain's Oliver Bearman.

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Mercedes had long planned an F1 testing programme this year with older machinery for Antonelli, with team boss Toto Wolff confirming at the Japanese GP earlier this month that they had recently added more dates to the teenager's schedule.

"The programme of Kimi driving Formula 1 has been in place for a long time and hasn't changed massively over the last few weeks," said Wolff.

"What we have done is added more days, but what you will see in the next few months has been in place, whether or not he's going to sit in a Formula 1 car next year. So, yeah. We're going to do a few of these days for him to get comfortable in an F1 car.

"He's driving the 2021 car in Austria for the first time. We want to give him a feeling what a really good car feels like before we put him in the '22.

"Obviously, he's been our young boy since a long time and we're keen to see what he's able to do in a Formula 1 car."

In the wake of Ferrari reserve Bearman's impressive stand-in debut performance when deputising for Carlos Sainz at short notice at March's Saudi Arabian GP, when the 18-year-old finished seventh having never competed in a full GP race weekend before, Wolff added: "It was refreshing to look at how competitive he [Bearman] was in Saudi Arabia.

"No free practice, high speed, complicated track, and he was right up there. So Kimi would be doing just fine."

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Ferrari reserve driver Oliver Bearman sits down with Martin Brundle to reveal all about his dream F1 debut from the late call up to replace Carlos Sainz to his remarkable P7 finish

What are Antonelli's chances of replacing Hamilton?

Wolff has said that Antonelli is in the running to replace seven-time champion Hamilton - who stunned F1 in February by signing a deal to join Ferrari from 2025 after 11 years at Mercedes - but has stressed he does not want to place excessive pressure and expectation on the 17-year-old's shoulders amid the Italian's early steps in F2 where he has competed in just three rounds so far.

Wolff has also said that, should be become available, reigning world champion Max Verstappen would be his No 1 choice to fill Hamilton's seat.

Sainz, who has been let go by Ferrari to make way for Hamilton for next year, is another option, although Fernando Alonso is now off the market after committing to a new deal at Aston Martin. Sebastian Vettel, the four-time champion, has also not shut the door on a return to the sport.

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Toto Wolff says Kimi Antonelli will be successful in F1 but will wait to see if he will be Lewis Hamilton's replacement at Mercedes in 2025

Asked at Suzuka if the fact Mercedes were still not back at the front of F1 amid continued Red Bull dominance made the option of promoting the inexperienced Antonelli more attractive for 2025, Wolff replied: "You can look at it from various perspectives.

"I believe we are in a rebuild phase. You need to acknowledge that now - three years into these regulations we've got to do things differently than we have done in the past, without throwing overboard what we believe is goodness in the way we operate.

"Rebuild could mean putting a young driver in there and giving him an opportunity with less pressure than fighting for victories immediately.

"Or putting a more experienced driver in the car that can help us dig ourselves out of the current performance picture.

"So both [approaches] go."

Sky Sports F1's live Chinese GP schedule

China schedule

Thursday April 18
5.30am: Drivers' press conference

Friday April 19
4am: Chinese GP Practice One (session starts at 4.30am)*
8am: Chinese GP Sprint Qualifying (session starts at 8.30am)*

Saturday April 20
3.30am: Chinese GP Sprint (race starts at 4am)*
7am: Chinese GP Qualifying build-up*
8am: Chinese GP Qualifying*
10am: Ted's Qualifying Notebook*

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Remind yourself of the Shanghai International Circuit, joining Valtteri Bottas for his 2019 pole lap at the Chinese GP

Sunday April 21
7am: Grand Prix Sunday: Chinese GP build-up*
10am: Chequered Flag: Chinese GP reaction*
11am: Ted's Notebook*

*also live on Sky Sports Main Event

Next up is the return of the Chinese Grand Prix on April 19-21, which is also the first Sprint weekend of the season. You can watch every session live on Sky Sports F1 and steam every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership - No contract, cancel anytime

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