Alfa Romeo team principal Frédéric Vasseur has dismissed the rumoured $30million backing for Guanyu Zhou to get him into F1 as "b******t" and "pure speculation".
Valtteri Bottas will join Alfa Romeo from Mercedes next year but the identity of his team-mate remains unknown, with a number of drivers on Vasseur's list of options.
Alongside Zhou, fellow F2 frontrunners Oscar Piastri and Robert Shwartzman are in the mix, as well as test and reserve driver Callum Ilott, Haas' Mick Schumacher and Alfa Romeo's current driver Antonio Giovinazzi.
Suggested to Vasseur there were reports of Zhou being armed with sponsorship of $30m to become China's first F1 driver, the Frencham told GPFans Global: “The numbers you give, it is pure speculation and b******t.
"At the other end, I was asked about some names and they are guys at the top in F2.
Piastri is doing a fantastic job, Zhou was second, a frontrunner in the championship, and we have to consider F2.
“If you have a look over the last few seasons, all the young kids coming from F2 have done a great job. For me, it means it is an option but it is not the only one.
“We have Antonio at the moment. He knows perfectly the team, he is doing a good job. He had two very impressive qualis in Zandvoort and Monza.
“Personally, I think he is stepping up. It means that it is good for him if I take time and then we will see."
Alfa Romeo rate talent ahead of money
Despite conceding teams must consider a budget on offer from a prospective driver, Vasseur claims talent will always be the dominant factor in his decision making.
“The most important thing for me is the performance of the team," added Vasseur. "My job is to be focused on this.
“For sure, at one stage you need to consider the budget and it is true for every single team, it is true for everybody on the grid that it is complete b******t if you said you won’t consider this aspect or the nationality or some other aspect.
“But at the end, the final target is pure performance. It means that we are focused on the different aspects."