1997 F1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve believes Toto Wolff’s “ego” is the reason Mercedes are going to sign Andrea Kimi Antonelli as Lewis Hamilton’s replacement.

The second Mercedes seat alongside George Russell is still up for grabs.

Mercedes junior Antonelli remains the heavy favourite to take the seat after Wolff appeared to rule Carlos Sainz out of the running.

Wolff remains interested in signing Max Verstappen at Red Bull, but it’s expected that the Dutchman will stay put for 2025 at least.

Antonelli has been part of Mercedes academy since 2019 (since he was 12), rising through the motorsport ranks in impressive fashion.

The Italian is widely regarded as the ‘next Verstappen’ and looks likely to make his F1 debut next year after just two years in single-seaters.

Wolff famously missed out on Verstappen’s signature after Red Bull could offer him a full-time seat with Toro Rosso for 2025 – something Mercedes couldn’t offer given their lack of junior team.

Villeneuve thinks that Wolff picking Antonelli is an “ego” based decision, claiming the Mercedes boss “will not have it any other way”.

“Mercedes is not really an open door. It’s [Kimi] Antonelli’s team,” the Canadian said. “That’s the future.

“He’s been prepped for it. Toto will not have it any other way. There’s ego in there.

“He will prove to the world that he was right, that when Antonelli was 12, he knew that he was a future champion.”

Wolff confirmed to Sky Germany during the Canada weekend that they “want to concentrate” on Antonelli – and his preparation for F1.

He also revealed that he had informed Sainz that he’s not under consideration by Mercedes as they look to the future. 

“We just want to concentrate on Kimi, that is our future, young drivers,” Wolff added.

“We want to commit to that, to young drivers and that is what we’ve told Carlos.”