MERCEDES is edging closer to naming its replacement for Nico Rosberg, with one of the contenders signing for a rival Formula 1 team.
Pascal Wehrlein has dropped out of the race for the seat alongside Lewis Hamilton, the Mercedes junior driver instead reportedly putting pen to paper with Sauber.
"According to sources with good knowledge of the situation, Mercedes has instead now agreed terms with Sauber,” reported motorsport.com.
"The final details of the contract are still to be finalised, but that should be done in the next few days.”
Wehrlein had been one of two drivers in the frame to replace the retiring world champion, but Mercedes viewed his relative lack of experience - a solid rookie season with F1 minnows Manor in 2016 - as a risk given it is pursuing its fourth consecutive drivers' and constructors' world championship titles this year.
That leaves only one driver in the race for the other Mercedes W08: Valtteri Bottas.
He has been the leading contender since emerging as an option in the days that followed the German's shock announcement, despite the Finn being contracted to the Williams team for 2017.
Reports emerged in late December of a deal that would allow Bottas to make the switch, with Mercedes offering Williams heavily sweetened financial terms on their engine supply deal.
A further dot was joined in recent days, with reports Bottas made a secret visit to the Mercedes team's headquarters prior to Christmas for a seat fitting.
"It is suggested he tried out the cockpit of the team's 2017 car to help with planning for his seating position, and ran through initial technical preparations with the engineers that he could be working with next year,” motorsport.com reported.
Bottas's exit would leave a vacancy at Williams that is expected to be filled by the recently retired Felipe Massa, who will un-retire to join 18-year-old rookie Lance Stroll at the British squad.
The Brazilian announced he would leave the sport at the end of the 2016 season when it became clear that Stroll would be joining Bottas at Williams for 2017, in particular enjoying an emotional send-off from a partisan local crowd at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
With Wehrlein's move to Sauber poised to be announced, confirmations of Bottas to Mercedes and Massa to Williams are expected to follow on the same day.
Although Massa's return would be a popular one with fans of the sport, former F1 star Jean Alesi believes it would be mistake for the man himself.
"Honestly to me this is a mistaken decision,” the 250-race veteran told Gazzetta dello Sport.
"Felipe has stopped, he's turned a page. And what if he discovers that the Williams isn't quick?”
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