Mar.5 (GMM) Lewis Hamilton has been earmarked by Mercedes as a potential replacement for Michael Schumacher beyond the end of this season.
That is the claim of the German Sunday newspaper Bild am Sonntag, following the Stuttgart marque's recent denial that Schumacher has already been offered a new two-year contract for 2013 and 2014.
The newspaper said Briton Hamilton, the 2008 world champion whose McLaren deal ends this year, is the 'plan B' should seven time world champion return to retirement before his 44th birthday.
Bild am Sonntag said Mercedes already knows Hamilton after powering his F3 title in 2005.
"If we had a plan B already," motor sport vice-president Norbert Haug is quoted as saying, "we would not be well advised to talk about it in public.
"Before we talk to Michael, this is not a topic," he insisted.
F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone said recently he doubts Hamilton will see out his career with McLaren. "If he doesn't perform this year he'll be looking to move on. And the team, maybe, will also be looking to him to move on," the 81-year-old Briton said.
Before we talk to Michael, this is not a topic
According to Bild, however, more than 50 per cent of German fans surveyed want Marussia's Timo Glock to replace Schumacher.
Hamilton secured 3.9 per cent of the vote.
"This is all just speculation," a Mercedes spokesman is quoted by Germany's Sport1. "There are no negotiations with any drivers and we will only speak with Michael at the appropriate time.
"For now our entire focus is on the start of the season."