Marko challenges Albon, confirms Hulkenberg as 2021 Red Bull option

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Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko has told Alex Albon what to do to keep his seat in 2021 while confirming Nico Hulkenberg as an alternative.

Speculation over the Thai driver's place has been swirling for much of the season as he has struggled to be competitive against teammate Max Verstappen.

New criticism also emerged after a difficult race at the Eifel Grand Prix last weekend, where several incidents compromised his race before retiring due to a damaged radiator.

And now, Marko has applied a little pressure to Albon by admitting he is the only Red Bull driver not yet guaranteed his seat next season.

"We are actually already clear about three positions," he told Germany's Sport1 amid suggestions F2 driver Yuki Tsunoda will join AlphaTauri alongside Pierre Gasly.

"We want to make the fourth one by Istanbul in mid-November at the latest.

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"We can call the names that are available on the market, this is Hulkenberg and this is [Sergio] Perez," the Austrian noted. "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.

"And the performance [of Albon] at the Nurburgring was satisfactory," he concluded.

During that analysis of Red Bull's driver situation, however, Marko revealed 'The Hulk' could have been replacing Albon earlier than he may still do.

"We were already in talks with Hulkenberg on Friday because Albon, like many others, had an inconclusive test result," he said.

"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."

The German though did get to drive in his home race after rushing to the track on Saturday to replace the unwell Lance Stroll and, commenting afterwards, Marko was very impressed.

"I think the worst thing that can happen to a driver is to get into a car for qualifying," he said, with Nico unable to avoid finishing slowest overall.

"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."

Still, when it comes to if Hulkenberg sees Red Bull as a genuine 2021 option, he is staying realistic.

“The chance is very small," he conceded to Sky Deutschland. "We know that you will always stand by your Red Bull driver squad. Therefore, it cannot be assumed.”

As for seats elsewhere, Hulkenberg was also downbeat and doubts his strong run at the Nurburgring will change much.

“It’s difficult to say,” he said. “This is the maximum I can do to promote myself and advertise, but after Silverstone, nothing really changed dramatically or immediately.

“I think it’s still a process and people obviously know I’m around, but we’ll just have to be a bit more patient to see what’s happening.”