In speculation that could turn the Formula 1 driver market on its head, Nico Rosberg has been tipped to replace Heikki Kovalainen - the man he defeated to claim the inaugural GP2 Series crown - at McLaren-Mercedes next year, according to Michael Schumacher's manager Willi Weber.

There are expected to be a few changes up and down the grid when the 2008 merry-go-round finally stops, but Weber - who currently looks after the career of Williams test driver Nico H?lkenberg - reckons the most significant will be that at Woking, where Kovalainen has endured a trying season so far.

Despite having displayed Lewis Hamilton-rattling raw speed, the Finn has been plagued by ill-fortune, from his wheel rim failure-induced crash in Barcelona to being tagged off the start-line by countryman Kimi Raikkonen in Istanbul and receiving a controversial grid penalty in Magny-Cours. Those maladies have seen the 26-year-old notch up just a sole rostrum finish from the opening nine grands prix of the campaign and 24 points to championship-leading team-mate Hamilton's 48 - and Weber argues his days there are already numbered.

"[Rosberg] has a clause in his contract that Williams can surely not fulfil," the 66-year-old told Sport Bild, referring to the stipulation in the young German's contract that the Grove-based outfit must finish at least fourth in the 2008 constructors' title chase in order to exercise its option to retain him. "Rosberg will replace Heikki Kovalainen, who will change back to Renault."

Rosberg, for his part, has remained enigmatic on the subject, outwardly professing his loyalty to Williams - which at the moment sits sixth in the standings, nine points shy of its target position - but refusing to confirm whether he will still be there next season, contract or no.

The 23-year-old has repeatedly underlined his desire to battle for the drivers' world championship - and sooner rather than later. He was reputed to be number one on McLaren's shopping list to replace Fernando Alonso at the end of last year, but Sir Frank Williams made it very clear that Ron Dennis would need to come to him with an open chequebook if he was to have any chance of prising him away from the team.

"I have a contract," Rosberg replied, when asked by Sport Bild about whether he will still be at Williams in 2009, before adding: "It's like in football - take [Polish born, German player] Lukas Podolski. He signed a contract for next season at FC Bayern, but will he be there?"

The son of 1982 F1 World Champion Keke Rosberg also made it plain that his objective is '100 per cent' to follow in his father's footsteps and lift the sport's ultimate laurels, and admitted that he had been frustrated by Williams' form over the first half of the current campaign - one that opened with a podium finish Down Under in Melbourne, but since then has yielded a scant two points.

"At the start we were looking really good," he reflected, "but we were not able to have the development progress of the top teams.

"I know that next year I will not win the title with Williams, but I do hope for a big step forward. With the new regulations, particularly the cutting back of the aerodynamics, it means everyone starts from scratch basically. Without that, I would have my doubts.

"If I can't do it with Williams, I just have to go to a team where it is possible. The first thing would be Frank Williams. I would only begin to think about it if Frank agreed to release me."

When asked finally if he sees 2009 as a final chance for Williams to turn things around, the 2005 GP2 Champion responded: "You could say that."

Kovalainen, meanwhile - who registered the maiden pole position of his fledgling career in the top flight at Silverstone last time out - has received a vote of confidence from Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug ahead of McLaren's engine-supplier's home grand prix at Hockenheim this coming weekend

"In the end only [his] speed plays a role," the German stressed in an interview with Auto Motor und Sport, "and he has shown that he has that - not always consistently, but he has had some highlights. Heikki is a star in the making."

The 55-year-old added that there is 'no firmly arranged time' for talks about extending Kovalainen's contract with the team, whilst summing up his season so far, the man from Suomussalmi told BBC Radio 1's Newsbeat programme: "I think there's been a lot of promise and the pace has been good, but we haven't got good enough results yet."

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