Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says Sebastian Vettel “is someone you can never discount” when it comes to potentially replacing Lewis Hamilton next year, despite preparations ramping up for the team to test Formula 2 racer Andrea Kimi Antonelli.

Vettel spoke about being tempted by a potential return to Formula 1

earlier this week, and admitted he has held discussions with Wolff about multiple things relating to his future plans, but not necessarily the Mercedes vacancy. After Hamilton stated “I would love for Seb to come back and I think it would be an amazing option for the team,” Wolff said the four-time world champion can’t be ruled out.

“Sebastian is someone that you can never discount,” Wolff said. “I think his track record is phenomenal and sometimes maybe taking a break is also good to re-evaluate what’s important for you and re-find your motivation.

“We haven’t taken a decision yet and it’s not something we plan to do in the next few weeks. I know that the driver market is very dynamic; some of the really good guys are about to sign for some of the other teams, and we want to continue to have these discussions and keep the options open.

“But at that stage I think it’s much too early for us to commit to a driver, whether very young or whether very experienced — I don’t want to say old, very experienced — the next few months will give us more clues.”

Wolff has whittled down a shortlist of drivers that he’s interested in, and currently one of the key considerations for Mercedes is its junior driver Andrea Kimi Antonelli, who was fast-tracked to F2 this year. The Italian will test a W12 at the Red Bull Ring on April 16.

“The program of Kimi driving Formula 1 has been in place for a long time and hasn’t changed massively over the last few weeks,” Wolff said. “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 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 of what a really good car feels like before we put him in the ’22 !

“Obviously he’s been our young boy for a long time with James and we’re keen to see what he is able to do in a Formula 1 car. Ollie Bearman was refreshing to look at how competitive he was in Saudi Arabia. No free practice, high-speed complicated track, and he was right up there. So Kimi will be doing just fine.”