Fernando Alonso: McLaren target Ferrari driver for next season
McLaren want Fernando Alonso to rejoin them next season and have made the Ferrari driver their prime target.
With the Spaniard unsettled at Ferrari, McLaren hope to persuade him to return to a team he drove for in 2007.
Asked if he wanted the double world champion, McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh said: "Yes, any team would. He's the best driver."
But he added: "I don't know his contractual situation. I assume he's under contract."
If McLaren signed Alonso, he would replace Mexican Sergio Perez given that Jenson Button is under contract and will stay on.
When asked if a return to McLaren was tempting, Alonso said: "Not really. I love Ferrari and I will stay at Ferrari until the end [of my contract].
"It's nice to hear comments from all the team principals every year saying they respect my job and personality, especially McLaren.
"There were so many rumours that we had a lot of problems that year  but I always said that there are no problems with anyone, it was just the philosophy of the team, especially one man in the team that is not there [anymore].
"It is good to have these comments but there is no intention. I have three more years with Ferrari and I hope many more to come if we can extend the contract and that would be my hope."
Alonso is contractually committed to Ferrari until 2016 but there has been friction between team and driver in recent weeks.
The 32-year-old was publicly admonished by president Luca Di Montezemolo in July after making critical remarks about his car.
And now Ferrari have signed 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen as his team-mate for next season.
Alonso has said he is "happy" about Raikkonen's return to Ferrari, even though the move threatens his position as outright team leader.
The Finn would not play the supporting role that has been performed by Felipe Massa for the past four seasons.
McLaren have made an approach to Alonso, believing a partnership with Button would give them potentially the strongest driver line-up on the grid.
McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale said there was "a lot going on behind the scenes", adding: "We want a strong driver line-up. That is what we are always aiming for."
According to one senior F1 insider, the "love affair" between Alonso and Ferrari "is over", but there is no certainty McLaren would acquire the 2005 and 2006 world champion.
Alonso would have to actively want to end his arrangement with Ferrari, who would be much weaker without him.
He would also be going back to a team with whom he fell out spectacularly when he was team-mate to Lewis Hamilton in 2007.
Alonso was angry at the time that then team principal Ron Dennis had promised him priority status and then not delivered it. Instead, the team let Alonso and Hamilton battle and both ended up losing the title by one point to Raikkonen, who was then in his first period at Ferrari.
But Dennis, the chairman of the McLaren Group, no longer has an active role in the F1 team and has also lost his executive status on the board.
That means he could not block Alonso's return and would not need to have anything to do with him if he did drive for the team.
Alonso earns a reputed 28m euros (£23.6m) at Ferrari but if he moved his salary would present no problem for McLaren as he would be accompanied to the team by the Spanish bank Santander, who would cover his wages.
McLaren have had a difficult season this year with an uncompetitive car but believe that signing Alonso would make them genuine world championship contenders in 2014.
Alonso may be uneasy about the uncompetitiveness of McLaren's car this season, but there are concerns about the quality of Ferrari's engine next season.
F1 is switching to a new engine formula in 2014, with 1.6-litre turbo engines with extensive energy recovery systems replacing the current 2.4-litre naturally aspirated V8s.
Ferrari are believed to be behind both Mercedes and Renault on power-unit performance at this stage.
The Italian team are themselves concerned about the performance of their engine and are putting pressure on behind the scenes to raise the limit on the number of engines teams can use per season and to relax the fuel limits that will be imposed.
Alonso may therefore believe that he is unlikely to win the title with Ferrari next year and that he could not lose by moving to McLaren.
A further temptation will be the fact that McLaren will have Honda engines from 2015 following a decision of the Japanese company to return to F1.
The deal comes with significant financial support and is expected to secure McLaren's status as a leading team for the next few years.
If McLaren fail in their attempt to prise Alonso out of Ferrari, there are a number of other possibilities, including retaining Perez or taking on Sauber's Nico Hulkenberg or Force India's Paul Di Resta.
None would preclude the possibility of Alonso moving to McLaren in 2015 - and McLaren are keen to keep this option open if they fail to secure him for 2014.
The team are also considering elevating one of two young drivers they have under contract - Dane Kevin Magnussen and Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne.
The two are racing in the Formula Renault 3.5 feeder series this season and are both highly rated as future stars by McLaren.
Despite Button and Perez having not yet finalised contracts, Whitmarsh added that he expected them to be driving for the team in 2014: "Being realistic, that's what I think will happen."