REPLACEMENT DUE: The Mercedes F1 team is looking for a replacement for Nico Rosberg (left) to race alongside Lewis Hamilton. Image: AP / Hassan Ammar
Cape Town - It is becoming clearer and clearer that Pascal Wehrlein will join Mercedes as Lewis Hamilton's new team mate in 2017.
Following new world champion Nico Rosberg's shock decision earlier in November to retire, Formula 1 has been a hotbed of rumours when it comes to his replacement.
The headline rumour has been all about Fernando Alonso.
"People always think of Fernando when a top car is free," Flavio Briatore, who is still involved with the Spaniard's management, told La Gazzetta dello Sport journalist Andrea Cremonesi on Friday (Dec 9).
"But we have a contract, and we will respect that."
READ: Mercedes needs a new driver, the internet applies for Rosberg's job
Briatore is referring to Alonso's McLaren-Honda deal for 2017.
Former F1 driver turned German language pundit Marc Surer told Speed Week on Friday: "Maybe he (Alonso) has a clause that he can get out of his contract if Mercedes calls. But the management is now clearly saying that Alonso will not leave McLaren. So this is probably the case."
Mercedes team chairman Niki Lauda is quoted by Blick newspaper as insisting: "Mercedes will break no contracts!"
And Marca, a Spanish sports daily, quoted a Mercedes source on Friday as revealing that, true to the strongest speculation, Mercedes junior Pascal Wehrlein will get Rosberg's seat.
The source reportedly said: "It is a specific request from Hamilton, who has vetoed the possibility of any top driver coming."
But earlier, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff had denied that Hamilton would have a big say in the call.
Wolff now tells Blick, the Swiss newspaper, that: "We now have only three names on our list. If Nico had informed us earlier, it would be easier now. But perhaps we need to take a courageous decision."
READ: Lauda slams Rosberg's shock decision: 'We are in the worse possible situation'
Roger Benoit, the veteran Swiss correspondent, claims the three drivers on Wolff's list are Wehrlein, Alonso and a driver he manages, Finn Valtteri Bottas.
But even Bottas is under firm contract at Williams, with Wolff saying: "We do not want to create a big disturbance anywhere. Our plan had been to send Pascal to Sauber for one or two years to further develop. The (Sauber) team will be much better next year than it was in 2016."
One interpretation is that Wehrlein will now be a stopgap solution for Mercedes in 2017, with Wolff admitting that for 2018, "the situation looks simpler. There are many good drivers still without a contract".
Wolff added: "It is important that the second driver can help the team in the development of the car. That was Rosberg's great strength."