LONDON (Reuters) - Williams would be open to Valtteri Bottas joining Formula One champions Mercedes next season if a suitable replacement for the Finn can be found, deputy team principal Claire Williams said on Thursday.
"Williams has its own ambitions and we must always ensure we give our team the best opportunity to move forward," she told the BBC in the first open recognition by either side that a deal could be done.
"Any changes would only be made if Williams remains in a strong position to compete and develop in 2017.
"If we did allow Valtteri to leave, we would only do this if an experienced, credible alternative was available, such as someone like Felipe Massa for example."
Mercedes, the dominant team in Formula One, are looking for a driver after German Nico Rosberg's shock announcement this month that he was retiring only five days after winning the championship.
Brazilian Massa also retired from Formula One at the end of the season, but that was seen more as a consequence of Williams signing 18-year-old Canadian rookie Lance Stroll to partner the experienced Bottas.
Massa has said he wants to keep racing and might be tempted to return for one more F1 campaign, despite an emotional farewell to his home fans in Brazil last month, to help out Williams.
Both teams have close ties, with Williams powered by Mercedes engines.