Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says the team will consider "all options" as it looks to replace Nico Rosberg following the 2016' world champion's stunning retirement from the sport.
Rosberg shocked the F1 world on Friday by announcing that he is quitting the sport in a press conference just five days after he secured the title in Abu Dhabi. It leaves Mercedes, who have dominated F1 since the beginning of 2014, with an empty seat alongside Lewis Hamilton for 2017.
Wolff, who spoke at the press conference after Rosberg's announcement, confirmed the team will start the process of finding a replacement at the start of next week after the FIA's prize gala in Vienna.
"First on the agenda was to give Nico the opportunity to tell everybody that he's stopping," Wolff said when asked about Rosberg's replacement. "We didn't want this to leak so we kept it in a very small circle. Obviously now we have to consider all options and it will be very hard..."
Mercedes junior Pascal Wehrlein has been tipped for a future drive at the senior team and stepped in to replace Lewis Hamilton at Pirelli's final day of 2017 tyre testing just two days ago. Wehrlein, who drove for Manor this year, is yet to have a seat confirmed and was linked with the Sauber seat over the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Wehrlein had previously been overlooked for a seat at Force India, when the Mercedes customer team decided to take fellow junior driver Esteban Ocon instead. It remains to be seen whether Ocon is a candidate for the senior team after signing that deal.
If "all options" means Mercedes looks beyond its two junior drivers, then the team mayhave to spend big to lure one of the sports' top assets away from their rivals. Fernando Alonso is tied into a third and final year of his McLaren contract, while Ferrari re-signed Kimi Raikkonen for 2017 during the season. Sebastian Vettel is contracted to Ferrari until the end of 2017, while Red Bull has tied down Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen for the next two seasons. Valtteri Bottas is signed for another year at Williams but is an interesting candidate given his links to Wolff, who is part of the Finnish driver's management team.