SAO PAULO - McLaren's Fernando Alonso is the key to the Formula One driver market, with several teams waiting on him before announcing their 2008 lineups.
The double world champion has a contract but is far from certain to be staying after falling out with bosses and accusing them of favouring team mate Lewis Hamilton.
A sizeable section of the paddock is convinced the Spaniard will be leaving McLaren, a view fuelled by the driver's continued criticism of the team.
McLaren have stonewalled questions about his future but, with the season now over, it is a leading item on the agenda.
"It will be addressed over the course of the next two weeks," team boss Ron Dennis said after Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix.
The Spaniard has been linked to Renault, the team with which he won his two titles, but that may not be his first option.
"Right now I'd say no," he told Spanish radio station Cadena Ser on Sunday.
On current form, champions Ferrari or BMW Sauber are the most competitive alternatives to McLaren but both have confirmed lineups.
That leaves Toyota, who said farewell to Ralf Schumacher in Brazil, as the only others with a vacancy and a big enough budget. But they have been well off the pace.
Renault are unlikely to retain Italian Giancarlo Fisichella, which leaves Brazilian Nelson Piquet junior poised to partner Finland's Heikki Kovalainen should Alonso not arrive.
Toyota have Germany's Timo Glock, the new GP2 champion and a former BMW test driver as well as racer with Jordan, as a frontrunner to partner Italian Jarno Trulli.
Briton Hamilton, championship runner-up in his rookie season, is definitely staying at McLaren so the big question is who would McLaren replace Alonso with?
An obvious candidate would be Nico Rosberg, son of 1982 champion and former McLaren driver Keke, but Williams are determined to hang on to the young German.
"I don't think it (Rosberg's departure) would be the death of the team but as a competitive force, until we'd found somebody who could replace Nico, it would certainly be difficult," co-owner Patrick Head told reporters this month.
"So it's something that neither Frank (Williams) or myself are even contemplating."
A straight swap with Kovalainen trading places for Alonso is another possibility that has been mooted by paddock pundits, given McLaren's success with Finns over the years.