The Citroen World Rally team insists that Sebastien Loeb will not switch to Formula 1 during the 2009 WRC season -- but left the door open for him to race in a grand prix when the rally championship is over.
Loeb, who impressed Red Bull Racing in an F1 test last winter and has reportedly spent time in the team's simulator since then, told French newspaper L'Equipe
that he was "available" if an opportunity arose at Toro Rosso, where Sebastien Bourdais' future is in doubt.
Citroen team boss Olivier Quesnel has ruled out an immediate F1 move for Loeb, who is currently embroiled in a close WRC title fight with Ford's Mikko Hirvonen, but says he would not stand in the Frenchman's way if he wanted to contest events afterwards.
The F1 finale in Abu Dhabi takes place after the end of the WRC season, and there is believed to be a genuine possibility of Loeb getting a Toro Rosso drive for this race.
"Citroen Racing has never prevented its drivers from expressing their passion for motorsport," said Quesnel. "As we have already said, Sebastien Loeb is shortly due to do some testing with the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP, because I know how important it is for him to try his hand at different activities as a driver.
"Should Seb get an opportunity to race in F1, our reaction would not be to prevent that from happening, so long as it would happen after the final [WRC] round."
Loeb agreed that he was totally committed to the WRC at present, but open to offers from F1.
"I know what my priority is: it is the World Rally Championship," he said. "But what would you expect a driver to answer if asked whether he would like to drive a Formula 1 car?
"That said, with four rallies still to come, we have our work cut out if we want to secure a sixth drivers' title and a fifth manufacturers' crown. For the moment, my energy is fully focused on that goal."
He added that he had not expected his comments to L'Equipe
to attract so much attention - and that he had not intended to add to the pressure on Bourdais.
"I am a little surprised by the turn this whole business has taken, and above all by the way what I said has been misquoted or taken out of context to spread rumours," said Loeb. "It just isn't really my style to make declarations in the press about Sebastien Bourdais."
Bourdais is now almost certain to lose his Toro Rosso seat to reserve driver and British Formula 3 champion Jaime Alguersuari after this weekend's German Grand Prix. An announcement about Bourdais' position is expected later this week, although Alguersuari will probably not be announced as his replacement until closer to the Hungarian GP.