With the Red Bull drivers secured and both Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso apparently off-limits, Mercedes have made their big play, and it's the underrated Finn Valtteri Bottas that has been given the kiss of death.
Valtteri claimed the only podium result for Williams this season, and although it was thought interest from the top teams had wained after Ferrari elected to retain Kimi Raikkonen rather than bring Valtteri into their stable, it seems that the desperate position Mercedes find themselves in after the shock retirement of reigning world champion Nico Rosberg could be just the lifeline his career needed.
Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff has zeroed in on Bottas as his favoured option as a replacement for Rosberg, who retired five days after winning his first world title last month despite having two further years on his Mercedes contract.
Wolff has approached Williams with a proposal that he gives them a major reduction in their engine bill - said to be in the region of €10m euros (£8.4m); more than half the total fee - in return for releasing Bottas.
Williams also have the option to run Mercedes reserve driver Pascal Wehrlein in Bottas' place.
Wolff, who is part of Bottas' management team, sees the 27-year-old as a close like-for-like replacement for Rosberg - quick, a reliable and consistent points scorer, and relatively easy to manage alongside the more mercurial Hamilton.
Throw into the mix the potential of Paddy Lowe switching from Mercedes to Williams and you can see how these negotiations could get complicated very quickly, absolutely not what Mercedes need right now.
The biggest issue with poaching Bottas away from Williams is that they will be left without anything like a senior driver. Even bringing in former Williams reserve driver Felipe Nasr doesn't come close to rebalance the loss of Massa and Bottas (19 seasons combined F1 experience).
Other potential options for the Mercedes seat included junior driver Pascal Wehrlein, and even retired former world champion Jenson Button. Bottas however was always the most likely first choice, with the overlooked Carlos Sainz a likely back-up if a deal can't be agreed upon.
Toro Rosso have agreed that "Chilli" Sainz would be released from his contract if Mercedes came knocking on their door, although without an engine deal between the teams it'll require ponying up for the full amount.