Michael Schumacher has told Ferrari that there is a "very, very, very strong possibility" that he will race for Mercedes-Benz in Formula 1 next year, team president Luca di Montezemolo has revealed.
Although there has not yet been any official word from the Schumacher or Mercedes-Benz camps about the progress of talks in relation to an amazing comeback for the seven-time world champion, di Montezemolo has given away just how far advanced the situation now is.
Speaking to selected media, including AUTOSPORT, at Ferrari's Christmas lunch in Fiorano on Thursday, di Montezemolo shed fresh light on the Schumacher developments.
"I hadn't spoken to him since Abu Dhabi but I spoke to him yesterday (Wednesday)," said di Montezemolo about Schumacher's Mercedes-Benz situation.
"He phoned me and he told me that there is a very, very, very strong possibility [of racing for Mercedes-Benz]. Having said that, it is not 100 per cent decided. But that is what he said yesterday morning."
Di Montezemolo confirmed that Ferrari had agreed to release Schumacher from any remaining commitments he had to the Italian team so he could make the switch to Mercedes-Benz in the event of a deal coming off.
Sources have told AUTOSPORT that a deal between Schumacher and Mercedes-Benz has been agreed in principle, but that the matter cannot move forward until the German has been told by medical experts that his neck is 100 per cent ready for an F1 return.
Schumacher hurt his neck in a big motorbike accident earlier this year, and it was the legacy of that injury which forced him to abandon a comeback for Ferrari in the middle of last year.
Once Schumacher has got the medical news that he and Mercedes-Benz need, then it will be a matter of finalising his contract prior to an announcement being made.
Di Montezemolo said that he believed that it was a 'new Schumacher' who was pursuing a future with Mercedes-Benz.
"The real Michael Schumacher always told me he would finish his career at Ferrari," he said.
When asked what he had said to Schumacher during their conversation, di Montezemolo paused before saying: "Don't forget that when you start collaboration with a driver as long ago as we did with Michael, in 1995, over 14 years ago, you are also a friend.
"You can agree and disagree but you remain friends. I won't forget what he did for Ferrari and he won't forget what we did for him."
Di Montezemolo also spoke at length about the struggles Ferrari faced during 2009, having been unable to take the challenge to title rivals Brawn GP and Red Bull Racing.
"All our car architecture - the dimensions of the gearbox, everything - was based on a different interpretation of the rules and, also, we were pushing very hard until the last corner of the last race of '08," he said.
Di Montezemolo also admitted that the season had marked the closest point in his experience to seeing Ferrari quit F1.
"This year was the only one moment since I became chairman in 1991 that I was really minded to stop F1," he said. "It was the unanimous decision of the board that there was too much credibility being lost, too much polemics over the rules and not enough research.
"Now I say thank God that everything is over although we paid a big price because not to have Toyota and BMW and to have Renault in a different situation is not good for F1."