Ferrari have opened the door to Lewis Hamilton joining them in 2021.
Hamilton’s £40million-a-year contract with Mercedes expires at the end of next season.
Mercedes want to negotiate a new deal with the six-time world champion, who is 35 in January.
And while the Briton has indicated he will see out his career with Formula One’s record-breaking team, he has also spoken about the lure of driving for Ferrari.
Sebastian Vettel’s contract with the Scuderia is up at the end of next year and it is likely that the four-time world champion, who crashed with team-mate Charles Leclerc in Brazil a fortnight ago, would be the fallguy.
Asked if he was interested in signing Hamilton, a surprisingly candid Mattia Binotto, team principal at Ferrari, said: “Lewis is certainly an outstanding driver, a fantastic driver, and knowing that he is available in 2021 can only make us happy.
“We are happy with our drivers, but at one stage next season we will start discussing and understanding what to do.”
Hamilton has recently hinted that his next move could be determined by the whereabouts of Toto Wolff, the Mercedes boss who has overseen five of his six world championships.
The long-term future of the sport’s chairman, Chase Carey, remains uncertain, and Wolff, 47, has been linked with taking on the American’s role.
“For Lewis to say that is nice, but I would also like to know where he goes or if he stays,” said Wolff, back in the paddock for the final race of the season here in Abu Dhabi after skipping Brazil.
“Lewis and I have grown close over the last seven years. We ended up at Mercedes at the same time and we have built up a lot of trust.”
So, has Wolff reassured Hamilton on his own future? “We are having those discussions,” he replied.
“Can I shed more light? No. For me it was important to finish the season in Abu Dhabi. There are many things to be decided on and we will see over the winter.”
Hamilton will start next season as the favourite to win his seventh title and match Michael Schumacher’s all-time record. A move to Ferrari in 2021 would then provide him with the opportunity to win his eighth title at the sport’s oldest and most successful team.
The Italian giants have possessed the strongest package since the summer break. But following a combination of driver errors and pit-wall mismanagement they have blown several opportunities to win more times than the two recorded by Leclerc, in Belgium and Italy, and Vettel’s single triumph in Singapore.
The fight for supremacy between the team’s two drivers has also led to a fractious atmosphere which came to a head in Interlagos.
Both Vettel, 32, and Leclerc, 10 years the German’s junior, were ordered to explain their coming together, but both drivers escaped the embarrassing incident without sanctions.
Binotto added: “Was one driver more to blame than the other? It’s not important. They are two drivers fighting, and they can both make mistakes.
“It has been unfortunate what happened but it will not happen again.”