By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - Sizzling temperatures are forecast for next week's Hungarian Grand Prix, the halfway point in the season, and Formula One's 'silly season' of rumor and speculation is heating up accordingly.
Valtteri Bottas to Ferrari instead of fellow-Finn Kimi Raikkonen? Felipe Nasr to Williams? And what about Jenson Button?
"Man, what a morning! The heat wave has reached lots of countries especially Italy. Let's turn on the air conditioning and keep cool," Bottas's manager Didier Coton said in a Twitter post on Friday.
The Monaco-based Belgian, who once worked with double champion Mika Hakkinen, may simply have been referring to the ambient temperature in his part of the world.
But much more likely he was commenting on a report in Italy's Corriere dello Sport newspaper that Ferrari had reached a deal with Williams to replace one Finn with another in 2016.
It claimed that Williams would be paid some 12 million euros ($13.02 million) for releasing Bottas early from an option on his contract.
Ferrari and Williams refused to bite.
"We don't ever comment on our contracts of any description, and certainly not driver contracts," said a Williams spokeswoman.
Raikkonen, who returned to Ferrari in 2014 after a year with Lotus, was eclipsed by Fernando Alonso last season and has also lost out to new team mate Sebastian Vettel in 2015.
Bottas, 10 years younger at 25, has long been seen as a leading candidate to replace the 2007 world champion when Raikkonen's contract expires at the end of the season but not the only one.
Force India's Nico Hulkenberg, passed over by the sport's oldest and most glamorous team last time around, is now a Le Mans winner although Ferrari may not be keen on an all-German lineup.
If Bottas moves, and it is not a given, Williams will have plenty of choice.
The former champions, who finished third overall last year, are well out of the slump that sent them as low as ninth in 2013 and their Mercedes engines make them highly desirable.
Brazilian Felipe Nasr, who has made an impressive debut with Sauber after a stint as Williams reserve, might be one candidate with compatriot Felipe Massa already on board and looking like staying.
And what about Jenson Button's future?
While McLaren boss Ron Dennis emphasized recently that the 2009 world champion has a contract through to the end of 2016, that has not stopped the rumor mill wondering whether the Briton might not have one more move up his sleeve.
Button started out at Williams in 2000. With McLaren currently in the doldrums and having two young talents to accommodate in GP2 leader Stoffel Vandoorne and F1 reserve Kevin Magnussen, what price a romantic return?
With the silly season under starter's orders, that one could run and run.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)