Lewis Hamilton backs Antonelli, 17, as Mercedes successor

IMOLA, Italy -- Lewis Hamilton has backed teenage driver Andrea Kimi Antonelli to replace him at Mercedes next year.

Hamilton will move from Mercedes to Ferrari at the end of this season, leaving his team with a difficult decision to make over his replacement.

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Seventeen-year-old Antonelli is a Mercedes junior driver racing in Formula 2 while also undergoing an intensive F1 test programme in old Mercedes F1 cars.

The Italian has also been linked to a drive with Williams if Mercedes boss Toto Wolff decides not to partner him with George Russell in 2025.

During a news conference ahead of this weekend's Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Hamilton was asked whether Carlos Sainz -- the driver he is replacing at Ferrari -- would be a good candidate to switch to Mercedes and responded by saying his preference would be Antonelli.

"Honestly, I have no idea what Toto's plans are, but for me, taking on a youngster," he said, "if it was my job, if it was my role, I would probably take on Kimi."

Mercedes is fourth in the constructors' standings after its worst start to a season in its history.

The team has brought an upgrade to this weekend's race at Imola but is not expecting to address some of the car's underlying issues until a further update arrives later in the year.

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"It's not been good at all, but the last race [in Miami] was a positive and there's a long, long way to go," he said. "I'm really excited for the developments that are coming. We had a step in the last race and we've got a step this weekend and there's more in the pipeline.

"I feel like we've kind of found more of our North Star in what we need to do and change, it just takes time. But the energy in the team is amazing.

"They are so resilient in this team. We just continue to push, even though we've been knocked down quite a few times.

"So we've just got to continue to keep our heads down and stay focused and try and do the best job we can."