Red Bull has revealed it was in contact with Nico Hulkenberg about driving at the Eifel Grand Prix when Alex Albon delivered an inconclusive COVID-19 test.
Albon’s test returned back before the weekend, leading to Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko to chase Hulkenberg as a potential stand in.
Hulkenberg had already been drafted in as a last-minute replacement for Racing Point’s Sergio Perez for both races at Silverstone, with the German, despite seven months out of a car, turning in impressive performances.
A retest later confirmed Albon was negative, while Hulkenberg was called up for a third super sub appearance on Saturday morning when Lance Stroll fell ill.
Speaking to German channel Sport1, Marko said: “We were already in talks with Hulkenberg on Friday, because Albon, like many others, had an inconclusive test result.
“It could have turned out to be positive. Right after landing I called Hulkenberg, because our suspected case was Albon. But thank god it turned out that Albon was negative after all.”
Hulkenberg has been out of a drive since being dropped by Renault at the end of 2019, but is believed to be in the frame for a Formula 1 seat next year.
Speculation over Albon’s future at Red Bull has intensified over the season, and the situation wasn’t made easier by a disappointing performance by the Thai driver at the Nurburgring.
A time penalty for an incident with Daniil Kvyat, plus several lock-ups, compounded his race before retiring with a pierced radiator.
Although Red Bull is continuing to back Albon, Marko is clear that if his form doesn’t improve it would look at other options outside the team’s junior programme such as Hulkenberg or Perez.
“We can call the names that are available on the market,” Marko said. “This is Hulkenberg and this is Perez. The question is how far away they would be from Max?
“We have comparisons with [Daniel] Ricciardo and we can draw conclusions about where the drivers stand. I don’t think that anyone would get closer than three tenths.
“On good days, Albon is also able to create this proximity to Max. Albon is young, but we are aware that if he can’t stand the pressure, we can’t afford to be standing on one leg when it comes to the world championship. That is the situation.
“It is actually impossible for a world championship if you only have one car in the action. But we are not there yet.
“The performance [of Albon] at the Nurburgring was satisfactory. That’s just the situation.”
Marko wants a decision on next year’s driver line-up by next month’s Turkish Grand Prix, with Albon’s seat secure as long as he is “in the green zone”.
Hulkenberg’s run to eighth place in Sunday’s Eifel Grand Prix drew praise from Marko, with the German having not turned a corner prior to qualifying.
“I think the worst thing that can happen to a driver is to get into a car for qualifying,” Marko said. “You have to take into account that he knows the Racing Point from his previous races, but it was certainly a very difficult situation.
“He gradually improved during the race, did nothing stupid and drove the car to a commanding eighth place. We followed the times. At times [Pierre] Gasly and [Daniil] Kvyat were also close to him.
“Then I saw that he was gradually getting closer to Perez’s times. Hats off. A great performance.”