Nick Heidfeld's hopes of a potential return to Mercedes could be over after a senior source for the manufacturer hinted that the team is looking to secure a non-German driver to fill its test and reserve role for 2011.
Having lost his race seat when BMW quit the sport at the end of 2009, Heidfeld signed up as Mercedes test driver for 2010 only to leave the team mid-way through the season when he was offered the chance to return to a race seat with Sauber for the final five races of the year.
However, the experienced German was then overlooked for a race seat for 2011 after Sauber elected to sign Sergio Perez to partner Kamui Kobayashi, leaving Heidfeld looking at his options for the year ahead.
A return to Mercedes could have been one possibility, but head of marketing Joachim Schmidt has now hinted that a non-German driver could earn the role given that the team already employs Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg as its race drivers.
"We already have two German drivers," he told the Bietigheimer Zeitung
newspaper. "At the moment we are in conversation with potential candidates."
The 2011 season will mark Mercedes' second back in the sport as a full-blown constructor, with the team hoping for improved results than those gained in 2010 when Schumacher and Rosberg ultimately failed to match the expectations held at the start of the year.
However, Schmidt insisted that the manufacturer didn't regret the decision to buy out the Brawn GP team and was getting more from the sport than when it was simply a partner in the McLaren team and an engine supplier to the likes of Brawn and Force India.
"The financial burden, compared to when we were partnered with McLaren, is clearly lower,” he said. "For us, because of the advertising revenue and the money from FOM, it is economically more attractive than before.
"For this reason, we have the backing of our workforce for our Formula One engagement."