While attention surrounds who Fernando Alonso will be driving for in 2008 following his departure from McLaren-Mercedes, his decision also means that a top seat is now very much available - and in demand.

With the drivers' market in a state of flux as teams and drivers waited for Alonso to make the first move, as the Spaniard has chosen to leave McLaren, it has presented a rare opportunity for a potentially race winning car to become available

Naturally, several names are being touted for the seat already, some more likely than others. With deals still to be finalised and 'get out' clauses meaning those contracts are not as cast-iron as they seem, McLaren will have a busy few weeks deciding who is best to partner Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton has already hinted as to the drivers he would like to see partner him next year, but he could find one of any number of racers joining him in 2008.

Here, we name a few who could well fill that slot...

Nico Rosberg
The early favourite for the position must surely be Nico Rosberg. Although the fact that his status says he is a Williams driver for 2008, that Frank Williams has signalled his desire to keep hold of the youngster and that Rosberg himself wants to stay with the team, the opportunity for the German could not be more tempting.

Despite an inconsistent rookie season that was peppered with speed and mistakes alike, Rosberg was a minor revelation in 2007, appearing confident, racy and far more reliable. His fourth place finish in Brazil was probably more than this year's good but safe Williams car deserved under normal conditions, which suggests the German is a precocious talent waiting to be snapped up.

Rosberg is very happy at Williams though, so the begging question here is whether the team can revisit their former glory and give Rosberg a car that is capable of prompting the best from him. That looks increasingly unlikely as they flounder somewhat without sole manufacturer backing, meaning Rosberg should go ahead and seek that for himself and not wait for Williams to get back to a point they may never reach again. On the down side, his team player credentials are unfounded yet, although his German nationality doesn't hurt where Mercedes is concerned.

Heikki Kovalainen
Were it not for Lewis Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen's maiden season in Formula 1 probably would have received greater prominence and earned more of an ovation.

Despite a torrid start to the year in which Kovalainen's ultimate speed was questioned by Renault themselves, the Finn really hauled himself up the order in the second-half of the season and showed why exactly he has been touted for great things. As quick as Nico Rosberg and the BMWs at times, Kovalainen was against it as he tried to fill the substantial shoes of Alonso.

In reality, Kovalainen was quicker than team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella in the latter half of the year, and put together a run of points' finishes that eventually saw him snatch seventh place in the driver standings - a fine result given his lack of knowledge of some circuits.

Should Kovalainen go to McLaren though, it would probably be more to do with the fact that Renault need to clear a space for Alonso to return. Not that this could be a bad thing for Kovalainen given the difference in form in 2007. However, he would risk getting on the outside and be always looking in, while he would be at the whim of Flavio Briatore's decisions of where to place him. It would make Kovalainen a worthy, but potentially complicated, signing.

Adrian Sutil
Quite a wildcard suggestion, Adrian Sutil is beginning to get himself known on the wider stage after a solid maiden season with minnows Spyker.

A former team-mate of Hamilton's in Formula 3, Sutil revealed two things in 2007: that he can be quick, but that he can also be prone to a few mistakes. The latter could well put McLaren off the youngster, but perhaps at the same time they can give him the chance to redeem himself in such different surroundings.

Even so, Sutil remains something of an unknown quantity and is still learning the rigours of Formula 1 having made the increasingly substantial step up directly from F3. Nonetheless, he scored a point in his debut season and showed flashes of brilliance - namely at Spa - which has prompted many to expect big things in the future.

Had he got one more season under his belt then Sutil could well have been a more likely choice to partner Hamilton. For now, the step to McLaren is perhaps slightly too big.

Pedro de la Rosa
Probably the sponsors' number one choice, Pedro de la Rosa has been a loyal part of the McLaren family for several years now and this must surely be his prime opportunity to get the top level seat he has been chasing.

Although he expected to race for Prodrive in 2008, the increasing likelihood that they will not make the grid next year is placing doubts on de la Rosa's racing future. The Spaniard has done a good job for McLaren during testing, but his race pace remains something on an unknown quantity.

His handful of races in 2006 in place of Juan Pable Montoya were occasionally impressive - namely his second place in Hungary, a race he could have won -, but rarely outstanding. Nonetheless, should de la Rosa, who made his F1 debut with Arrows back in 1999, get his head around the qualifying system, then his speed over a long distance is often impressive.

Potentially a safe choice for McLaren, does de la Rosa have what it takes to raise his game?

Gary Paffett
McLaren's second test driver gives the team the scope for an all-British line-up.

Like de la Rosa, Gary Paffett has been a loyal Mercedes employed driver for several years now, but is now in a position where it is now or never as to whether he can step up to become a full-time F1 driver.

Also touted for Prodrive, Paffett may have spent several years in the DTM - winning the title in 2005 -, but his single-seater experience is still impressive. His German Formula 3 title in 2002 saw him beat Timo Glock, Markus Winkelhock and Vitantonio Liuzz among others.

However, it is Paffett's race craft that will leave McLaren pondering, as they have not had the chance to see how he can cope in racing conditions.

His decision to return to the DTM shows he is aching to race, but Paffett's lack of experience means a McLaren race seat is increasingly unlikely, unless he can get into a smaller team first.

David Coulthard
Could David Coulthard be set for a shock return to his former employers?

Maybe not, but if rumours about Fernando Alonso being in talks with Red Bull become true, then the Scot could well be forced to look elsewhere for employment and hooking up again with the team in which he achieved plenty of success would not be a bad deal.

The likelihood of this happening though is relatively slim, as the Scot is locked into a contract alongside Mark Webber. However, if the opportunity came about, could Coulthard resist a belated chance at the world title - or is he happy to ascend with Red Bull?

It remains to be seen... but at least he can take heart from the fact that the bookmakers would like to see him piloting a silver arrow once again...

These are just a suggestion as to whom should race for McLaren in 2008. Why not have you say and comment on who you think will be the Lewis Hamilton's team-mate next year...

 

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