Despite initial denials all around, Scuderia Toro Rosso has acknowledged that contact has been made with Takuma Sato with regard to a possible return to Formula One next season.
The Japanese favourite has been on the outside looking in since Super Aguri F1 went to the wall after the Spanish Grand Prix, and was first linked to a possible return with Red Bull's 'second' team after the Hungarian race in Budapest at the start of August.
Toro Rosso is one of the few teams expected to have a vacancy in a relatively quiet 'silly season' this year, but has no shortage of potential candidates to replace RBR-bound Sebastian Vettel and/or rookie team-mate Sebastien Bourdais. The Frenchman's performance has taken time to click into top gear, although an appearance in the final phase of qualifying in Valencia at the weekend may be enough for the team to consider extending his stay in Faenza for another campaign.
Sato, therefore, could be chasing one seat at STR in competition with the latest crop of Red Bull-backed drivers, such as Sebastien Buemi and Karun Chandhok, and team boss Gerhard Berger's supposed personal favourite, Bruno Senna. All three have been tipped to make the step up from GP2 next year, with Senna also reportedly being courted by BMW Sauber, but Sato's experience could be a key factor in his favour.
Berger has made no secret of the fact that he would like to see a blend of youth and experience in his line-up in 2009 and, with the anticipated exit of Red Bull money the year after that, will also be looking towards drivers that could help make up the budget shortfall Dietrich Mateschitz's withdrawal will leave. Sato continues to have large support in Japan, despite Kazuki Nakajima taking his place as the country's only F1 representative, although he would face competition in terms of financial backing from India's leading candidate, Chandhok.
While the rumours abound, however, there has been little in the way of confirmation of talks between the various parties until now, with Toro Rosso accepting that Sato had been in touch with regard to at least trying out the STR3 in testing.
"We have had talks, but there is nothing to confirm yet," a spokeswoman told Reuters
after it was speculated that the former Jordan, BAR/Honda and Super Aguri pilot may appear at Jerez next month.
Sato's manager, meanwhile, has admitted that he is trying various avenues in order to get his charge back on the grid next season.
"If we had the chance to test with [Toro Rosso], then we'd be delighted to do so," Andrew Gilbert-Scott acknowledged, after revealing that he was in touch with several other teams.