Red Bull is considering Fernando Alonso as a potential team-mate to Sebastian Vettel for 2014.
It has emerged that secret talks took place between the Spaniard's management and Formula 1's champion team at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
High level sources claim that the notion Red Bull should consider Alonso as an option for 2014 emerged in a conversation that took place between the Ferrari driver's agent Luis Garcia Abad and team boss Christian Horner at the Hungaroring on Friday.
Both Ferrari and Abad insist, however, that the talks he had with Horner were only related to a potential future for Carlos Sainz Jr, who he also represents.
While the specifics of the conversation between Abad and Horner remain disputed, Horner admitted in Hungary that the Spanish driver was now a candidate.
When asked if he could deny the Alonso talks, or rule out the Spaniard for a 2014 seat, he said: "Any conversations between any of the drivers and any of the parties will always remain confidential.
"But of course there have been quite a few drivers who have expressed an interest in the seat, as you can imagine."
ALONSO UNDER CONTRACT
The suggestion of Alonso being a free agent in the near future is a particular surprise because it had previously been thought that he was firmly tied to Ferrari until the end of 2016.
Horner said that while Alonso was being looked at, he was also unsure about the exact contractual situation, despite suggestions of break clauses.
"Is he available?" said Horner. "I don't know. You ask him."
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali claimed that Alonso was firmly locked down at the team - but acknowledged that the outfit had to improve its current performance to please its driver.
"First of all we have a contract with him," said Domenicali. "No doubt, Fernando is an asset for the team.
"We need him to work very closely with everyone, because after all this is a difficult moment in the season.
"We have to deliver a job. Full stop. This is the same for everyone, not only for him."
ALONSO INSISTS HE IS HAPPY
Although Alonso is not in the championship situation he had hoped to be this season, he made it clear on Sunday that he was still "happy" at Ferrari.
The team's situation is set for a boost with imminent confirmation of James Allison's arrival in a senior technical role, although the impact of Allison's arrival will take time to show.
Horner's frankness over Alonso could also be viewed as an act of gamesmanship, at a time when the driver market is particularly fluid and the championship fight is getting more intense.
The Alonso situation could weaken Kimi Raikkonen's bargaining power in his Red Bull talks, as well as causing internal friction at Ferrari.
Equally, Abad (pictured with Alonso) may have known that a meeting with Horner in front of photographers at a race would fuel speculation about a potential Alonso switch - which would serve to remind Ferrari about the Spaniard's desire to succeed.
When asked by AUTOSPORT if he could confirm he would see out his Ferrari contract, and was happy to stay at Ferrari irrespective of results, Alonso said: "I am very happy.
"Obviously we need to improve the car and we are going to have chances to win the world championship.
"August with four weeks with no F1 is a very dangerous period for you guys [the media]. Hopefully we will have a quiet summer."
HORNER WANTS BEST DRIVERS
Horner said the only thing his team was interested in was putting together the strongest driver pairing it could, with Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo also being considered.
Asked about the potential dynamics of an Alonso/Vettel partnership, he said: "It would be interesting.
"At the end of the day, you have to think about what is right for the team. Obviously the pairing that we want to put together for next year has to be right for the team.
"Last week there was speculation about Kimi. This week it is about Fernando.
"I think for us we want to make sure that nothing waivers in our mind of putting together the right team package for next year with the two fastest drivers that we can, who will work collectively well together and achieve the best results for the team."