Mercedes' struggles in the early stages of the new Formula 1 campaign have led to speculation surrounding Lewis Hamilton's future in the sport.
The seven-time world champion has indicated a desire to remain in F1 for another five years at least, with a record-breaking eighth World Championship in his sights to avenge the controversial loss to Max Verstappen in 2021.
But the lack of pace in the W14 compared to the Red Bull RB19 has almost certainly left title hopes this year redundant, though a podium at the Australian Grand Prix provided some optimism.
Hamilton has previously shown intent to remain with Mercedes for life, but should the Briton decide to leave for pastures new within a couple of seasons, who could the Silver Arrows replace him with?
With no shortage of options - but all with caveats - let's take a look.
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The obvious candidates
In fighting at Red Bull could leave Sergio Perez as an attractive option for Mercedes if the team is looking for a solid, know-what-you're-getting replacement.
The Mexican has had his run-ins alongside Max Verstappen with tension coming to a head at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix last season and whilst the Dutchman has dominated the intra-team rivalry in the two seasons together so far, Perez has proven on numerous occasions that he does possess the raw speed to give the two-time World Champion a headache.
Perez is contracted to the end of 2024 with the Milton Keynes-based outfit and, should this expiration coincide with a Hamilton departure, Mercedes could do much worse than elect to secure his services alongside George Russell.
Charles Leclerc looks set for another title-less season with Ferrari and with reliability issues still at large, a split from the Scuderia at the end of his contract next year would not be the most shocking development.
Strategic errors added to the pain last season as his championship hopes dwindled rapidly, eventually finishing 146 points behind Verstappen.
Mercedes would currently seem like a sideways step for the Monegasque, although Leclerc would move knowing the Brackley-based team has the pedigree in recent years to secure titles. The fact these two have switched positions in the pecking order since the start of the new regulatory era must also send alarm bells ringing, suggesting the switch wouldn't be the worst move.
Question marks would, however, arise over how happy Leclerc would be moving from a team he has made his own at Maranello to a Mercedes team likely to be rallied around Russell.
A similar question could be asked of Lando Norris and though the Briton is contracted through to the end of 2025, McLaren's backwards slide could see an escape route emerge.
Norris has made McLaren his team and now, with rookie Oscar Piastri alongside, finds himself as a bonafide team leader in all facets of the sport. Yet Mercedes would undoubtedly be a step up and likely hard to turn down, should the Silver Arrows turn fortunes around.
There are other drivers in the running that may not be so obvious as the three listed above but may be worth evaluating for Mercedes.
Alex Albon could be a bolter. The former Red Bull driver has no ties to the World Championship-winning constructor since signing a new deal with Williams last year, clearing a path for a move to Mercedes.
With former Mercedes Strategy Director James Vowles taking over as Team Principal over the winter and the power unit deal with Williams, existing links should lend to simple negotiations. It goes without saying that the switch would be a step up and Albon's performances since returning to the grid have been eye-catching.
Albon also enjoys an extremely friendly relationship with Russell which would help Mercedes' push back to the front. A move for the Thai-British driver is seemingly a no-lose scenario.
Esteban Ocon's contract with Alpine expires at the end of 2024 and could lead nicely to a reunion with the German manufacturer.
The Frenchman spent his junior career with Mercedes and was released when it was clear there was no room for him in its F1 plans, though Team Principal Toto Wolff was alongside Ocon every step of the way whilst he found a suitable destination to further his career.
Performances since his return from a one-year sabbatical prove Ocon's natural talent, with his 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix victory underlining his ability to perform under pressure.
A move for Ocon would make sense given the previous ties between the two parties, but would likely depend on how both Mercedes and Alpine improve over the next year and a half.
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With the direction Aston Martin is heading in, Fernando Alonso may be less likely to take a jump to Mercedes should Hamilton depart.
The Spaniard has enjoyed a stunning start to the season with three podiums from three races and with the Silverstone-based team at least equal with Mercedes, a move perhaps wouldn't make sense - though we have been surprised by Alonso before.
Daniel Ricciardo's absence from the grid this season highlights his intent to drive for one of F1's top teams, and an opening at Mercedes would surely be something to interest the Australian.
But with his time at McLaren plagued by struggles, it is hard to envisage Mercedes taking the plunge when other options would be on the table.
In steps Mick Schumacher, with both parties a known quantity to each other given his move to become reserve driver to Russell and Hamilton this season.
The German has F1 experience and whilst a race drive with the Silver Arrows would be a huge step up, the familiarity for both team and driver could - if only for one year whilst a long-term replacement is found - be an option difficult for Mercedes to turn down.
It is extremely unlikely Hamilton will leave in the near future given his recent output, but Mercedes will have plenty of choice should a void suddenly need to be filled.
Who do you think will fill Hamilton's seat if he leaves Mercedes in the next couple of years? Vote and leave your comments below!
Balve Bains is joined by RacingNews365.com Editorial Director Dieter Rencken and Asia Correspondent Michael Butterworth to dissect the key talking points from the last week in F1.