F1’s NFL draft: Red Bull reunion at Williams, Lewis Hamilton returns to McLaren

Sam Cooper
Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.

Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.

With the world of NFL descending on Kansas City this week for the draft, we at PlanetF1.com have imagined what a F1 draft could look like.

Of course, the NFL and F1 have little in common in terms of how they recruit drivers with young prodigies being signed up early to driver academies whereas in the US they play through college before being entered in the draft.

But what’s to stop us having a bit of fun? So for this, we are going to need you to use your imagination and imagine that all of a sudden every driver that competed in the 2022 season is a free agent.

Yes, that will see the likes of Daniel Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel and Nicholas Latifi return to the grid, but we figured that would be more fair than harshly rating this year’s rookies.

So, as is the case in the NFL draft, the worst performing team is given the first pick, which in this case is Williams, and while we cannot predict who a certain team may choose in this scenario, we have instead decided to hand drivers out in the order they finished the 2022 season.

So Williams will get the first driver in the standings, AlphaTauri get the second-placed driver and so on and so on.

Hopefully you’ve got the idea by now, so let’s get into who is coming away better and who is coming away worse after PlanetF1.com’s fantasy F1 draft.

Williams – Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo

It seems rather apt that just a few days before the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, our mock draft has thrown Ricciardo and Verstappen together once again.

Williams, as the lowest ranked team in 2022, were the grateful recipients of Verstappen who blitzed the standings last year to win his second world championship.

But the intriguing part of this line-up is no doubt the return of Ricciardo to the F1 paddock. While the Australian’s wishes of returning to a top team have not been granted, he is at least amongst familiar surroundings with his team-mate of three seasons alongside him in the garage.

With the Williams car known to be quick on the straights, its characteristics could even favour the late-braking Ricciardo.

But we dread to think just how angry Verstappen could get if the Williams car fails to match his lofty ambition.

AlphaTauri – Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel

Just like there is at Williams, there is a team-mate reunion going on at AlphaTauri with Leclerc having to make the short drive from the Ferrari offices to AlphaTauri’s where he will join up with Sebastian Vettel.

While the arrival of Leclerc at Ferrari signalled the end of Vettel’s time with the Scuderia, it seems the relationship between the two drivers never soured and Vettel proved to be somewhat of a father figure and mentor to Leclerc.

The Monegasque has come on leaps and bounds since the two were last team-mates and the duo already look like one of the strongest pairings on this hypothetical grid. Now it’s down to AlphaTauri to give them a decent car…

Haas – Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen

Haas are the sole team on this list to retain one of their existing drivers as Kevin Magnussen stays on but on the other side of the garage, there has been quite the upgrade.

While Nico Hülkenberg has famously failed to get onto the podium, Perez is a five-time race winner and proved himself capable of getting the most out of a car not in the top three.

There would be an interesting dynamic in the team though with both drivers having a case for being the lead driver. Magnussen will argue he has been at the team longer and deserves the superiority while Perez can simply point to the number of wins he has secured as his case to be number one.

Either way, it is an excellent problem for Guenther Steiner to have as he secures that all-important experience he has been after.

Aston Martin – George Russell and Pierre Gasly

One of the most exciting young line-ups in this mock draft as the drivers split by just two years meet at Aston Martin.

Considering where they both are and how quick the Aston Martin car currently looks, this move could be seen as a step up for the pair of them.

For Gasly it most certainly is as he gets his first chance since his Red Bull days to drive a car expected to fight for podiums while Russell can finally be in a car that is performing at its peak.

Gasly and Russell are not often a pair you associate together but considering they seem like two of the more friendly and approachable members of the paddock, it is hard to foresee any disputes erupting between them.

Alfa Romeo – Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll

One of the more interesting line-ups on this fantasy grid as for the first time in his career, Lance Stroll’s pay cheque will not have his father’s name on it.

It would have been interesting to see how Stroll handles with the added pressure of not having a guaranteed seat. Would he flourish or would he falter? Alas we will never know.

As for Carlos Sainz, at least he is out of the circus that currently is Ferrari but we are sure the ‘Smooth Operator’ would have had a few more preferences before picking Alfa Romeo.

McLaren – Lewis Hamilton and Mick Schumacher

What a romantic line-up this is. First of all you have the return of Hamilton to the team that made him and gave him his first world championship but you also have two of the most iconic names in F1 history uniting for the first time.

It seems quite remarkable that in the 19-year career of Michael Schumacher he never once drove for McLaren or Williams but that mantle has been picked up by his son, Mick, who is given a second chance at an F1 seat.

While it would have been particularly nice to picture a Vettel-Schumacher team at McLaren, Hamilton would be an equally valuable teacher for the young German. Although Schumacher may have mixed feelings about wanting his team-mate to do well considering a world title would break his father’s record.

Alpine – Lando Norris and Yuki Tsunoda

The two youngest drivers on the 2022 grid team up at Alpine with Norris leaving his first team of McLaren while Tsunoda departs the Red Bull family.

In a move that was actually done by his former team-mate Gasly, Tsunoda is moving up in the world to a team that has desires to battle for that P4 spot and above while Norris will also be taking a step up considering the respective forms of McLaren and Alpine this year.

However, Norris may feel a little frustrated in this fantasy world that his long-talked about move away from McLaren was instead to a rival and not one of the established top three.

Still Alpine can be happy they have landed perhaps the hottest prospect in F1 right now.

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Mercedes – Esteban Ocon and Zhou Guanyu

A former Mercedes academy driver arrives back at Brackley as Esteban Ocon departs Alpine and joins up with Zhou Guanyu.

Both drivers can be pleased with the move and perhaps more so than the Silver Arrows will be as they go from a driver with 103 wins to his name to a pair with just one between them.

They are both young though and Zhou seems to be steadily improving on his rookie year so far in 2023.

But the loss of Russell will no doubt hurt Mercedes as they had pinned their future on him.

Ferrari – Fernando Alonso and Alex Albon

It has been nine years since we last saw Fernando Alonso dressed in Ferrari and as he makes his return in this hypothetical world, it may be the first time ever you could say a driver would be disappointed moving from the P7 team to the most famous outfit of them all.

Alonso is loving life at Aston Martin whereas the current Ferrari team structure already seems shaky…an angry Alonso could be the final spark needed to light the tough paper of a full implosion.

On the other side of the garage, Alex Albon gets his first taste of a top team since departing Red Bull and on paper, the two could be seen as quite a formidable pairing. Just how well they would work together at a team currently not firing on all cylinders is a question we would have loved to know the answer to.

Red Bull – Valtteri Bottas and Nicholas Latifi

Nicholas Latifi may have accidentally knocked over the first domino that led to Max Verstappen winning his first world title but Red Bull would have preferred to grant him a lifetime supply of their drink rather than give him a race seat.

Latifi gets another crack at being an F1 driver and it is quite the upgrade as he comes from the worst team to the best.

On the other side of the garage, Red Bull get one of Formula 1’s current veterans. A man who has contributed to five Constructors’ Championship wins, who has won 10 races and stood on the podium 67 times. Seems like a perfect fit right?

Well there’s just one problem. His name is Valtteri Bottas and he drove for Mercedes for five years. The de facto enemy number one appears to be one of the nicest guys in the garage but he will have to smooth over some sticky relationships if he is to make this hypothetical move work.

Which team has the strongest driver line-up?

Looking at the names and hypothetical line-ups in this list, three stand out as potential title candidates. For while the others either have one strong driver, this trio is made up of multiple race wins.

The first is Aston Martin who have been given the young but experienced duo of Russell and Gasly. Both will be keen to prove they belong in that upper tier of drivers but as of right now, there are question marks.

Which narrows down the list to two: Williams and AlphaTauri. Both teams have a formidable pairing and also happen to have drivers who have shared a garage before.

It is honestly hard to pick between the two with Leclerc and Vettel some of the most consistently brilliant drivers on the grid. They have a mixture of experience and potential and also seem to have a good relationship.

But then there is the Max Verstappen factor for a driver in the form of his life is not easy to be ignored. While the current ability of Ricciardo is one to be debated, there is a chance he could rediscover his former Red Bull brilliance at a new team but Verstappen is a driver who has only improved since the last time the drivers were team-mates.

That therefore means Ricciardo and Verstappen just narrowly sneak it ahead of Vettel and Leclerc.

Verdict: Williams – Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo