Nico Rosberg has confessed that he is ready and eager to measure himself against reigning F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton again in the same team - as rumours that the young German is top of McLaren-Mercedes' driver wish list for 2010 refuse to go away.

Though McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh has stressed that the team is keen to retain Heikki Kovalainen's services for a third consecutive season [see separate story - click here], the Englishman tempered that by adding the condition provided he ramps up his race day performances, an area in which the man from Suomussalmi has been routinely out-classed by Hamilton both this year and last.

What's more, McLaren attempted to make a move for Rosberg back in late 20077 to replace the prematurely-departing Fernando Alonso, but found the move stubbornly blocked by Williams, the Grove-based former multiple world champions unsurprisingly keen to hang onto their star asset.

What's more, the 24-year-old's father and manager - 1982 F1 World Champion Keke Rosberg - made clear that he did not believe it would be a good idea for his son to enter what is viewed in some quarters as 'Hamilton's team' at such an early and critical stage of his F1 career for fear of harming his reputation. Having finally established himself as a regular and consistent front-runner in 2009, however, it seems the man himself may no longer be quite so worried about that.

"I have been team-mates with Lewis before," he said of his former karting sparring partner, "so that wouldn't be a problem. It would be fun and very tough, a combination [of] sweet and sour.

"I would like a good team-mate, for sure - that is a big factor. Potential for development for the future, who the key people in the team are and the management and everything, budget, salary - all these things come into [the decision]. I am prepared to put salary last, though - that's nowhere near the priority as I really would like to have some good results now."

Rosberg has certainly scored some 'good results' this year, with six successive points finishes in 2009 and eight from ten races to-date. He is odds-on to keep that run going after qualifying a solid seventh for the European Grand Prix in Valencia this weekend - but he is clear that, whilst remaining at Williams is far from out of the question, he wants more than just fourth and fifth places.

"That's my next step," underlined the inaugural GP2 Series Champion, who beat Kovalainen to the 2005 crown in the F1 feeder category. "I've been finishing fourth and fifth, and I want to be finishing first and second and third. It's a very important step, and I need to judge where I am going to get the highest chance of getting that.

"I am still very pleased with my situation. I have various good options, and at the moment I am still figuring out what the best way to go is. I am close to having a clear picture now of what the options are - I'm still gathering a few bits and pieces. I had a discussion with Williams last week to clarify what the situation is, and I think sooner or later I'll be able to progress in a specific direction."

Kovalainen, for his part, has insisted that he feels no pressure upon his shoulders, even though he seemed to crack once again in qualifying in Valencia, when he spoiled a lap that would likely have been good enough for pole position with a late twitch in the last sector and scrappy final corner. The Finn clearly has the pace, but McLaren's frustration is that he has been unable to produce it consistently over the past season-and-a-half - and that frustration is felt just as keenly by the man inside the cockpit.

"A driver who wants to be successful always puts a lot of pressure on himself," acknowledged the 27-year-old, "and I put a lot of pressure on myself. I want to do well, I want to do better than fifth in races and that's what I'm focusing on.

"I'm not concerned about rumours and speculation. I had a chat with [Martin Whitmarsh], and I didn't have a feeling from that conversation that he was giving me a kick in the butt and saying that you had better deliver or you'll be out. It was absolutely not that kind of feeling.

"I think we've understood quite a lot of problems that I had. I lost a lot of performance with my tyres, and I think we understand the reasons. Hopefully this weekend we will see a step forward and we can repeat what Lewis did in Hungary."

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