When the mere survival of HRT looked bleak, the Spanish team's Chinese development driver Ma Qinghua started to look elsewhere.
That is the claim of the Diario AS newspaper, reporting that the 24-year-old Shanghai-born driver entered talks with other F1 backmarkers Caterham and Marussia.
Each of those teams are yet to confirm their second race drivers for the 2013 season.
AS said Qinghua's management, China Sport Management, opened talks with Caterham and Marussia around the time of the recent Austin and Brazil double-header.
The news is a real blow to HRT's chances of remaining in formula one, as rumours had suggested China Sport Management was involved in talks to rescue the ailing Spanish team.