Red Bull has confirmed it sounded out Nico Hulkenberg ahead of the Eifel Grand Prix after an inconclusive COVID test for Alex Albon.
On Friday, the day before Hulkenberg stepped in for the unwell Lance Stroll, he was called by Red Bull's Helmut Marko while it was awaiting clarity over Albon's situation. Although Albon was eventually cleared to race, Hulkenberg claimed an impressive eighth position for Racing Point as Stroll's stand-in.
"We were already in talks with Hulkenberg on Friday, because Albon, like many others, had an inconclusive test result," Marko told German broadcaster Sport1."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 is yet to secure a race seat for 2021 and, like Racing Point's Sergio Perez, has been suggested by some as a solution to Red Bull's struggles to get the most from Albon on track. While Marko said the pair could be considered in a worst-case scenario, the team does not believe there are many drivers who could get closer to Max Verstappen than Albon is currently.
"We can call the names that are available on the market," said Marko. "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."