McLaren hopeful Lando Norris could inherit the status of third driver with the Woking-based outfit next season, says racing director Eric Boullier.
Jenson Button spent a year on call for McLaren, replacing Fernando Alonso at Monaco, but the British driver is now keen on securing a full-time racing program somewhere in 2018.
The 17-year-old Norris, who currently leads the European Formula 3 title fight, tested for McLaren at the post-race in-season test in Hungary in August, and acquitted himself quite well.
"I think Jenson is looking for a full-time racing seat, and obviously we don't have any," Boullier said at Suzuka.
"But he is an ambassador and we would be happy to keep working with him in a role that suits both parties. But as far as racing is concerned we have nothing to offer to him.
"If Jenson has no role here then of course we need a new [reserve] driver. We have to prepare.
"Lando could be one of them. If he wins Formula 3, which is very likely, then he will have enough points to get a superlicence."
Lando's 72-point lead in F3 puts him in a comfortable position to wrap up the championship next weekend at Hockenheim.
His success should logically lead him to a seat with a front-running team in Formula 2 next season.
While he's a strong believer in Norris' talent, McLaren boss Zak Brown advocates patience however.
"Our current plan is to put him in Formula 2 [next year]," said Brown.
"I certainly think he's fast enough to be in Formula 1 but we don't want to rush things.
"He's definitely our star of the future and we won't put him in another Formula 1 team at this point."