With the news that Formula 1 world champion Nico Rosberg is hanging up his racing gloves, we take a look at several possible drivers who could be in line to replace him.
Whoever takes over from Rosberg will have to be prepared to face an extremely ambitious and experienced team-mate in three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.
Never one to be content than being anything less than his team’s No 1 priority, you can be certain the Briton will be even more determined to be the one and only top dog at Mercedes going forward. That might discourage some of the bigger names in the sport, although they could look at Rosberg’s recent achievement and realise they could pull off the same kind of upset victory with the German manufacturer.
The lure of a seat at Mercedes is going to be very strong indeed, particularly for those drivers tired of always having to line up behind the Silver Arrows on the grid – which is to say, almost all of them.
Mercedes have already made it very clear they will not rush the decision to fill the vacant seat, but there’s no harm in speculating.
Here are seven potential candidates:
Certainly the most obvious candidate is reserve driver Pascal Wehrlein, who has just completed his first full season in F1 with Manor.
The German is already part of the setup at Mercedes, having filled in for both Rosberg and Hamilton in testing, and is contractually available.
He hasn’t exactly set the world on fire during his time with Manor, however, and he could find himself under pressure from other drivers with such an enticing prize on offer.
Fernando Alonso has at times cut a forlorn figure since moving to McLaren from Ferrari.
It was hoped the move would give him a shot at the third world title he so desires after five years of fruitless toil at Ferrari, but the reality proved more than a little different, with the Spaniard forced to deal with constant power and reliability problems in his MP4-31.
Alonso’s McLaren contract only expires in 2018, but he might be keen to get out sooner if it meant a seat at Mercedes.
Alonso and Hamilton spent one very eventful season together at McLaren in 2007, however, and there’s a strong possibility that neither of them are up for another round.
Like Alonso, Vettel’s current contract at Ferrari only runs out in 2018, but the German will no doubt be desperate to return to a team that could bring him the kind of incredible success he achieved with Red Bull.
It’s been a very disappointing season for Vettel in 2016, and who knows, German constructor Mercedes might be eager to acquire the services of another German champion with a proven pedigree.
It’s unknown if an early release could even be negotiated, however, and it’s safe to say none of the big teams will part with their top talent without a fight or something valuable in return.
The brightest young star in the sport moving to the most successful current constructor? It sounds like a match made in heaven, but don’t expect Christian Horner and Red Bull to go quietly.
Many see the 19-year-old Dutchman as the future of the sport, but perhaps his time hasn’t quite come yet. With Red Bull having taken the youngster under their wing, he might not be ready to fly the nest just yet.
Button is supposedly set for retirement after losing his McLaren race seat to Stoffel Vandoorne for 2017, but he could provide Mercedes with a short-term stop-gap solution while they continue to plan for the future.
Having a driver with as much as experience as Button be available could be an attractive prospect.
Then again, taking on Button could be seen as a move sideways or even backwards, and there seems little reason for Mercedes to act conservatively when they have the fastest cars on the grid.
Taking on a promising youngster would make a lot of sense for Mercedes, and if Verstappen proves unavailable and Wehrlein doesn’t set their pulses racing, they could swoop for Ocon.
Having impressed for Manor after replacing Rio Haryanto mid-season, the Frenchman signed a deal to join Force India as part of his multi-year contract with Mercedes.
Force India would be eager to keep him, but it might not be entirely up to them.
Bottas is committed to Williams for a further year, but he is under the Aces Management scheme, which is co-owned by Mercedes Executive Directo Toto Wolff – who also just so happens to be a fan of Finn.
Bottas has given notice of his talent with nine podium finishes, and would be a fairly comfortable fit for Mercedes. The fact that he reliably outperformed veteran Felipe Massa this season would certainly count in his favour too.