The Antonelli Amendment

Andrea Kimi Antonelli will likely be F1’s next superstar and could be sooner than expected after a new amendment to the FIA Superlicense system. Dre on all the talk to come from it.

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Read time: 5 mins

“Shiny Hood Ornament Syndrome.”

You had a feeling this was going to happen. No-one had talked about a young star in the junior ranks since… probably Lewis Hamilton. Andrea Kimi Antonelli has been eye-balled by those on social media who keep tabs on junior racing as “him”. The next LH, or Verstappen, the last man that made the sport take a big look in the mirror and rethink how it wanted to approach young talent getting into F1. 

Antonelli’s junior record is pristine. A European Champion in Karting, then dominating in Italian F4, ADAC F4, FRECA in the Middle East and then FRECA itself in 2023. So good, Mercedes didn’t even bother with an F3 run, and bolted him straight into F2, and he’s been largely excellent there too despite Prema’s struggles with a brand new car and a lack of experience in tracks outside of Europe. Believe it or not, Antonelli already has the 40 points required in the last three seasons to be Super License eligible right now… except for one small problem. He’s only 17. 

When the talent comes along and the marketing money potentially left on the table hits home, the goalposts get moved. And that’s what happened today with the FIA amending its eligibility rules on the Super License where they can now give a license via special dispensation to a 17-year old if they are “judged to have demonstrated outstanding ability and maturity in single-seater competition”. If the FIA uses that dispensation here, Antonelli can hop in an F1 car tomorrow. 

Will he? Not sure. Mercedes don’t seem like they’re in a hurry to get him in a car. They’ve got all year to prepare, at least one FP1 they have to give to a rookie between now and the end of the season. It’s been Williams and James Vowles’ buyers remorse on Logan Sargeant that have tried to force the issue. And if I’m Toto Wolff, if Grove can’t even give Logan a car that’s equal spec to Alex Albon’s, is that where I want to send my star junior talent, especially when you’ve got a seat available for next year anyway?

In any case, it’s cute to see the obvious target here, just like the last time F1 changed their super license requirement back in 2015, so that you had to be 18 to be eligible. It was mere months after the debut of Max Verstappen, who drove a Toro Rosso in a Japanese FP1 session at just 17 years and three days old. He was only on a provisional license but he was by all accounts a prodigy, finishing Top 3 in a stacked European F3 season that same year1.

It’s understandable why. A lot of the time, it’s damage control. If you’re not 18, in the eyes of most, you’re a child. And putting a “child” in a 200mph car or 150mph bike is always going to raise an eyebrow. Bike racing has struggled to deal with this for years now. It had to bend its eligibility rules when 2021 World Champion Fabio Quartararo couldn’t enter Moto3 as a 15-year-old despite winning the junior title because his birthday fell in April. “The Marquez Rule” was scrapped in 2013 when Marc was set to join Repsol Honda despite there being a rule in place that forbid rookies from riding for a factory team. 

And let’s be real here, we all know the FIM raised all their age limits for junior racing off the back of a horrible, bloody 2021 season where three teenagers (Jason Dupasquier, Hugo Millan and Dean Berta Vinales), all passed away in crashes on track. It doesn’t stop young riders from being on those bikes in junior categories in the Talent Cups at 16, but if heaven forbid the worst happened, the mainstream press can’t make the rider’s age the hook of the story. As morbid and cold as that sounds, I saw it happen with my own eyes. 

I don’t have a strong opinion about whether 17 is an acceptable potential cutoff over 18. It’s an incredibly subjective argument when it comes to evaluating maturity. In the UK, it’s a year above the age of consent, the youngest you can marry without your parents approval, a year older than the cutoff to join the military, a year too young to buy alcohol or watch a particularly gruesome movie. No one’s quite sure where that line is. 

And that’s just the problem I have with this change. Saying “outstanding maturity and ability” is incredibly vague. At least in biking terms, the requirements were made clear so that if you win at Junior level, you can go up even if you’re a year below the cut off. The FIA’s amendment is just selection based on vibes and it will come back to bite the governing body down the road if it’s going to make case-by-case judgment calls if we get more 17-year-olds potentially eligible for F1. 

Of course, this drew out a lot of the IndyCar community that haven’t forgotten about Colton Herta’s failed F1 attempt in 2022. For those who are new here, Red Bull driver development head Helmut Marko was interested in bringing in the Andretti driver to his then AlphaTauri team. So much so they tried to get the eligibility rules changed to let Colton in. 

Why? Because 12 of his what he thought was 32 super license points didn’t count, because Indy Lights in 2018 only had seven cars, hence not competitive enough. A lot of the fans and drivers of the series mocked the decision, even if the rules were abundantly clear. 

I hate to be that guy, but it’s not really a fair comparison. The only reason Colton even had half a chance was because the FIA lowered the requirement to 30 points to get in, and would take your best three years out of four due to 2020 and the disruption of the pandemic. You know, a rules change. 

The debate about that and how many points IndyCar should get has never really gone away. The reality is Formula 1 is never going to cut a favour towards a rival series when it has its own junior system to promote2, and one that for the most part, has worked in this era. IndyCar gets more points than the FIA’s own World Endurance Championship, Formula E World Championship, or Super Formula3, which has strong ties to F1, has had many alumni in F1 now and is arguably the car that best replicates the sport.

For me, as I said back then, the issue isn’t the eligibility requirement to get in. Those from IndyCar who I think could be good enough for F1, would be able to do so anyway. The issue is F1 team bosses aren’t hiring IndyCar drivers. Helmut Marko’s Herta attempts were a desperation heave given his academy needed time to regenerate.

Back then, his best academy prospect was Jehan Daruvala, an F2 veteran who had zero chance of making the leap. Some more recogniseable names now like Isack Hadjar, Ayumu Iwasa and Dennis Hauger were all in need of seasoning. Marko did this with Pato O’Ward too, flirting and not much else. And he’s the only team boss that’s genuinely tried to sign an IndyCar driver. Alex Palou was historically great in 2023 and that only generated fleeting rumours of a seat.  

Unless that cultural aspect of Formula 1 hiring practices change, it’s a moot point whether IndyCar gets 40 points for a Championship or 100. It’s not a perfect systemn, but it’s largely worked out just fine for F1.

Whatever happens, the sport will get its next generational talent in a great seat in nine months time, maybe even sooner if the FIA deems him worthy. I do wonder though, if the governing body might end up accidentally denying another, when the next 17-year-old comes along… 

  1. Tom Blomqvist, Esteban Ocon, Antonio’s Fuoco and Giovinazzi, Felix Rosenqvist, Jake Dennis… ↩︎
  2. Some IndyCar fans genuinely think McDonalds ought to be promoting Sam’s Chicken. ↩︎
  3. You know, that series the best IndyCar driver on the planet came from. 25 Points for their National Champion. Seems fair. ↩︎

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Somehow can now call himself a Production Coordinator at the Motorsport Network, coming off the back of being part of the awkward Johto Era at WTF1. All off a University Project that went massively out of hand. Weird huh?

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