Valtteri Bottas says there are no "burned bridges" with the Mercedes Formula 1 team over a potential return as Lewis Hamilton's replacement.
Hamilton's shock decision to leave Mercedes has energised the driver market ahead of 2025, just when it appeared to be stalling as Ferrari and McLaren moved to tie Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris to long-term deals.
Sauber driver Bottas drove for Mercedes from 2017 to 2021 as Hamilton's team-mate, but the team decided to replace the Finn with George Russell from the 2022 season.
Hamilton's impending move means Mercedes is suddenly in need of a replacement to race alongside Russell next season, with its options limited by the timing of Hamilton's decision and those new contracts being issued for desirable drivers at other teams.
Bottas is entering what he calls a "contract year" with Sauber, ahead of its Audi takeover for 2026.
The Finn stopped short of expressing a stated desire to return to Mercedes given his opportunity to secure a long-term future as part of what he called the Sauber/Audi "project", but said there are "as far as I know, no burned bridges" about a potential return.
"It's no lie, I was in Brackley the day before actually," Bottas said, referencing an Instagram story he posted last week before Hamilton's Ferrari move was announced, which went viral among F1 fans given the location concerned near the Mercedes base.
"Not at the Mercedes factory, but I was there doing some other stuff. No, we haven't spoken on the phone yet with Toto [Wolff, Mercedes team boss].
"And if I would go back, yeah… Well, obviously, my priority and biggest commitment is the Audi project, which is my target.
"But if that wouldn't happen, there's no team that I wouldn't go [to] perhaps. I know my priorities and I've got my list."
When asked to give his reaction to the Hamilton/Ferrari news at Sauber's 2024 car launch at London's historic Guildhall on Monday, the Finn said he was "surprised" by the development as he "never actually thought that could happen".
He added: "But I think it's good for him – it's a big opportunity, it's a big move. And obviously, he's made the decision himself.
"[I'm] happy for him and for sure that's now going to escalate some movement in the market for 2025. So, at the moment, it's quite hard to predict how it's going to go.
"I never imagined it would happen. And also the timing of it. But I'm happy for him because it's good for him.
"I think it's a great challenge. I'm sure it's a big motivation for him to bring Ferrari to the top.
"So, it's kind of cool and it will definitely create some movement for the future, which is good for the whole sport and for some drivers, for sure."