Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has insisted that the Silver Arrows continue to view Pascal Wehrlein as an important part of their future plans.
Wehrlein won the 2015 DTM championship with Mercedes. He was promoted to Formula 1 with Manor the following season. He switched to Sauber last year and was responsible for all five championship points won by the team.
Despite that achievement, the 23-year-old finds himself without a Formula 1 race seat for 2018. So far his plans for the year remain uncertain.
But Wolff put his backing behind the German driver, saying he was still part of the Mercedes family.
"Pascal definitely deserves a place in Formula 1," Wolff told Motorsport.com. "[He] is certainly one of the fastest drivers."
Wolff has previously described Wehrlein's performances on track as "exceptional"
"At the moment it looks a little bit bitter as far as the available driver seats are concerned," Wolff admitted. "But he's definitely going to be on our team [in some capacity]."
Wehrlein has previously spoken about how Sauber's back-row status has obscured his own achievements in 2017.
"Even if we had a good race in the second half of the season, you couldn't see it because the gap was just too big," he explained last year. "I think in general we did what we could do."
Sauber's decision to replace him with rising Ferrari star Charles Leclerc came too late for Wehrlein to secure an alternative seat for this season. The only remaining open spot is at Williams, and that's likely to go to Sergey Sirotkin.
Wolff admitted that he didn't know if Mercedes were going to be able to place Wehrlein in an alternate championship this year.
The team principal said that it wasn't yet clear "whether or not he actively participates in a racing series other than Formula 1. He will definitely remain part of our squad."
That leaves Wehrlein looking longer-term for opportunities in 2019. Many major driver contracts are due to expire at the end of this season - including both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
Mercedes is currently in negotiations to extend Hamilton's tenture at Brackley. If one of the current regular drivers did leave the team over the winter, Wehrlein would likely face stiff competition for the vacant seat from fellow Mercedes protégé Esteban Ocon.
Unlike Wehrlein, Ocon will be kept race-sharp as he returns to Force India for a second season in 2018.