Nico Hulkenberg looks set to miss out on the Lotus race seat for 2014.
Team boss Eric Boullier has admitted the German is his preferred choice to replace Kimi Raikkonen.
But, because Hulkenberg is basically unsponsored, an actual paid deal between the 26-year-old and the Enstone based team has been pending the sale of a 35 per cent stake in Lotus to a group of investors known as Quantum.
It seems the deal may have fallen over.
Germany's Auto Motor und Sport said Pastor Maldonado, whose lucrative Venezuelan backers PDVSA have been negotiating their exit from Williams, has leapt to the front of the queue to replace Raikkonen.
"Some say the deal is now done," said correspondent Michael Schmidt.
Schmidt said Williams, who would be compensated by PDVSA for ending the contract, is likely to replace Maldonado with Ferrari refugee Felipe Massa, who is said to be backed by the Brazilian oil company Petrobras.
It is believed Hulkenberg is unlikely to stay at Sauber next year, which could mean a return to Force India for the German, whose F1 career was rescued by the Silverstone based team after he lost his Williams seat in 2010.
Eddie Jordan, with a solid reputation for usually getting his stated predictions right, said earlier this month he is "certain" Hulkenberg will race a Force India in 2014.
However, team supremo Vijay Mallya threw a spanner in Jordan's theory this week when he named Hulkenberg as the "only driver" who has ever "expressed the desire to leave" Force India after just a single season.
"Other than that all the other drivers have always been very happy to stay," he told F1's official website.
Mallya said Force India will not name its 2014 driver lineup until December.
Williams denies talks with Brawn
Williams has played down reports the British team could be the next destination for Ross Brawn.
Mercedes on Tuesday refused to comment on the latest speculation about Brawn's future, amid suggestions the 58-year-old has decided to step down as team boss.
Last month, paddock rumours suggested Brawn could be interested in buying the 15 per cent stake in Williams currently owned by his Mercedes colleague Toto Wolff, who is keen to offload the shares to end a conflict of interest.
Brawn began his F1 career in the 70s when Sir Frank Williams gave him a job as a machinist.
Later, in the mid 90s, he worked with great success at Benetton alongside Pat Symonds, who this year started work as Williams' new technical boss.
But Brawn insisted last month: "I'm definitely not buying shares in Williams!"
That doesn't mean he might not head back to the British team simply to work there alongside Symonds.
But deputy team boss Claire Williams told the Mirror in Abu Dhabi this week: "There have been no conversations with Ross."
Brawn has also been linked with McLaren's new Honda era beginning in 2015, but the latest rumour is that he could reunite with his old Ferrari boss Jean Todt, who is now president of F1's governing FIA.
Ecclestone tips Brawn to leave Mercedes
Niki Lauda has slammed the latest speculation about Ross Brawn's future, insisting nothing has changed to trigger the reports.
Lauda, Mercedes' F1 chairman, said recently he was in talks with the 58-year-old Briton but that a decision will not be made until after the season.
The Austrian great also said he wants Brawn to stay.
But reports on Tuesday suggested Brawn has now definitively decided to step down, in order to be replaced by new team boss Paddy Lowe.
"I hate all this bulls**t," triple world champion Lauda is quoted on Wednesday by the Daily Mail.
"The (latest) speculation is total rubbish."
However, F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone has hinted that the decision about Brawn has in fact been made.
"I think they have decided that Ross is going, and that seems to be the end of it," he said.
The Daily Mail said the uncertainty could be because Lauda wants Brawn - a renowned engineer with race and title-winning pedigree at Benetton, Ferrari and his own Brawn GP - to stay, while Toto Wolff wants Lowe to succeed him.
Lauda said: "I am trying everything I can to encourage and motivate him to stay. I want him to do it. But it is not my decision; it is his decision."
Brawn said recently he will only stay if he can remain team boss, and so Lauda denied suggestions the current talks are about negotiating a lesser role for the 58-year-old Briton.
"If he stays he will be team principal – nothing else – or he will retire," he said.
Webber's bad mood with Vettel started in 2007 - Marko
Mark Webber's bad relationship with his teammate Sebastian Vettel dates back six years.
That is the claim of Red Bull's Dr Helmut Marko, who plays down suggestions Australian Webber and German Vettel only really fell out after the well-documented 'Multi 21' team orders saga of this season.
Not so, Austrian Marko told the Swiss newspaper Blick, as "It goes back to Fuji 2007".
In the Japanese grand prix six years ago, Webber was running strongly for Red Bull when Vettel, a rookie racing for Toro Rosso, crashed into him whilst running behind the safety car.
A furious Webber famously slammed "kids" who "f*** it all up".
"He (Vettel) probably cost him (Webber) his first victory," said Marko. "Since then there was trouble."
After Vettel wrapped up his fourth title in India last weekend, Webber did not appear for the post-race team photo, in which Red Bull also celebrated its fourth consecutive constructors' championship victory.
"Well done to Seb on his championship," Webber said in a post-race statement after retiring with alternator failure, "and also to all the team; to get a fourth title is amazing."
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