After Kamui Kobayashi tweeted a light-hearted application for the vacant Mercedes drive this week, ESPN has compiled a list of left-field candidates we would love to see the world champions take a big gamble on -- however unlikely they may be.
As his tweet inspired this list, its only fair Kobayashi is the first name on it. A popular driver when he was in Formula One, he returned to the grid in 2014 after a crowd-funding initiative earned him a seat at Caterham. The highlight of his career had come in 2012, when he claimed a home podium at the Japanese Grand Prix for Sauber. Kobayashi disappeared from F1 when Caterham went into administration at the tail-end of 2014, and he did not re-surface when the team made a final appearance in Abu Dhabi that year.
Kobayashi's uncompromising racecraft helped him forge a cult status in Formula One and his return would be good in for the Japanese market, where F1 remains as popular as ever. He undoubtedly deserved a better crack at Formula One and Mercedes would provide the perfect chance to show what he can really do behind the wheel.
Three-time MotoGP champion Lorenzo drove a Mercedes this year, running a 2014-spec car at Silverstone. The fact the team said his pace was competitive suggests he would have no problem adapting to the demands of a Formula One car -- the Spaniard even suggested he found the experience rather easy compared to MotoGP. Lorenzo is not the first two-wheel legend to flirt with Formula One in recent years: Valentino Rossi tested for Ferrari on several occasions and was often linked with a switch to four wheels, coming closest in 2009 when the team searched for a stand-in for the injured Felipe Massa.
We know this is practically impossible, especially given Lorenzo's recent switch to Ducati, but it would be a great PR moment for both F1 and MotoGP. Ruthless, frighteningly fast and a true icon of motorsport, Lorenzo going up against Hamilton in 2017 would be absolutely fascinating.
It's safe to bet Kubica could have been a world champion by this point in his career had he not suffered serious injuries in a rallying accident in early 2011. That crash almost severed his arm completely and left him with injuries which have made a return to single-seater racing impossible, though he has since forged a career in rallying.
Kubica was admired by fans and his peers alike, with Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso previously saying he is one of the sport's lost world champions. His performances before his crash show he was a man just waiting to be given a car to match his huge talent. We know the Pole will never grace the F1 grid again but undoubtedly a fully healthy Kubica would have been top of the list of candidates for this drive.
Alexander Rossi is one of the great racing stories of 2016. Cast aside by Manor in Formula One after a flurry of races at the end of last year, Rossi stunned the racing world by winning the Indy 500 at the first attempt during his rookie IndyCar season, vindicating his talent. The fact he has signed on for another season with Andretti Autosport seems to have closed off a route back to Formula One, meaning the American looks set to join the list of drivers that missed out on a fair chance.
Rossi to Mercedes would be gold-dust for Formula One. Cracking America remains the obsession for Bernie Ecclestone and prospective new owners Liberty Media. Despite the popular U.S. Grand Prix and the debut of Haas this year, Formula One is still a slow-burner stateside. A competitive, marketable driver like Rossi in a class-leading car challenging for the championship alongside Lewis Hamilton -- the most recognisable athlete in the sport -- would be a gamechanger in terms of recognition in the States. Sign him up, Toto.
António Félix da Costa
A case of massively unfulfilled potential. Undoubtedly a talented driver, Da Costa, now 25, slipped through the cracks of the Red Bull programme early in his career. Despite links to various teams through his first racing years and an appearance at a young driver test in 2010, the opportunity to drive in F1 never arose. Like with many others before and since, once the door closed on Da Costa it never re-opened.
He hinted at what might have been earlier this year by winning the prestigious Macau Grand Prix after a late call-up, beating out a host of young drivers gunning for the F1 opportunity he was never given. He's admitted a future in F1 is not on the cards but we get the feeling Mercedes would love resurrecting a former Red Bull protégé's career...
Frijns is another driver who somehow never made it to the F1 grid. Clearly a great talent, the Dutchman was a coming man in the early 2010s and beat Jules Bianchi to the 2012 Formula Renault 3.5 title in his rookie season. A place on the F1 grid seemed certain but despite a test with Red Bull and test roles with Sauber and Caterham in 2013 and 2014, a full-time drive never materialised as he was often overlooked for better-funded drivers. He has since featured in Formula E, where he scored a podium in his second appearance.
Jean-Eric Vergne is unfortunate that his make-or-break season at Toro Rosso coincided with two big events in the history of Red Bull Racing: Sebastian Vettel's decision to leave for Ferrari and the emergence of Max Verstappen. When Vergne was overlooked for Vettel's seat, which went to Daniil Kvyat, his days in the Red Bull programme were numbered and he was dropped byToro Rosso altogether when the team signed Verstappen and Carlos Sainz for 2015. He hasn't been in F1 since.
Like many Red Bull castaways before him, Vergne was confined to the scrapheap way too early and has always maintained that he had a balanced rivalry with Daniel Ricciardo when they were teammates -- the Australian has since blossomed into one of the best drivers on the grid. Vergne has stayed near F1 with a reserve Ferrari role and a surprise nod from Mercedes would be massively popular given the high regard many have for the Frenchman.
Schumacher is one of the names that resonates with motor racing across the world. Father Michael remains the most successful in F1 with 91 wins and seven world championships, meaning young Mick's career has already been subjected to intense scrutiny and attention. The 17-year-old has been heavily linked with Mercedes' junior programme in recent months and has shown promise in his career so far.
Signing him for 2017 would be an incredible risk and we know Schumacher's name will not be on Toto Wolff's candidates for a drive, but he looks like a good candidate for a future seat at Mercedes. Whichever F1 team signs him up knows Mick will come with great marketing opportunities but with massive expectations. Though he is far off the required superlicence points for a place on the grid at the moment, he makes this list as he turns 18 just in time for next year's season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Paul di Resta
As a youngster, Paul di Resta made his name by out-performing teammate Sebastian Vettel in the 2006 F3 season. Despite impressing in junior categories he never recieved the backing required -- and that he felt his talent deserved -- and had to wait until Force India signed him for the 2011 F1 season. Though consistent in his three seasons at the team he never scored a podium and was dropped at the end of 2013.
Despite possessing a great amount of talent Di Resta has failed to return to the grid since and has had to make do with three seasons of DTM. He was named Williams reserve driver this season but that's as close as he has come to another shot. He remains closely linked to Mercedes through DTM and may have been a viable candidate for Rosberg's seat his F1 career had ended more recently.
Say what? I know, I know -- just hear me out. Maldonado was axed by Renault ahead of this season due to complications with his funding, leaving with one of the most unenviable reputations in recent memory. Maldonado's crash-strewn career has spawned a host of internet memes and even a website charting the time since his last accident but overshadows the fact the Venezuelan was always supremely fast.
In fact, most in the paddock would agree Maldonado was quicker than most on the grid in terms of raw speed, his victory at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix for Williams the stand-out drive of his career. However, Maldonado never seemed to shake his wildly erratic style and his final season at Lotus was littered with incidents which did little to shake the notion he was in F1 for his sponsors' money and nothing else. But was his over-aggressive driving a by-product of driving uncompetitive cars? If Mercedes tamed his wild side and gave him a race-winning car Maldonado could provide the perfect foil to Hamilton on the other side of the garage.