Dr. Helmut Marko dropped a bombshell post the F1 Eifel GP as he revealed that he spoke with Nico Hulkenberg to be replacement of Alexander Albon for his unclear COVID-19 test.
In the post-Eifel GP briefing with Sport1 TV AvD Motorsport Magazin, Marko revealed about a discussion held with Hulkenberg to replace Albon, after a potential COVID-19 scare for the Thai, due to an unclear test he had before the grand prix weekend.
Marko stated that he was in talks with Hulkenberg to be part of the Servus TV’s F1 show when they start broadcasting the sport from 2021 onward. It was then when he asked about his whereabouts and put him on standby incase Albon tested positive.
“We were in talks with Hulkenberg for being a TV analyst because Servus/ORF has the F1 rights for next year and beyond so they had a chat on Friday because Albon showed an unclear COVID test,” said Marko. “With the possibility of becoming a positive test, he had a phone call with Hulkenberg on Friday, as soon as I landed at the airport.
“Albon showed negative, so nothing had been done with Hulkenberg. The reason for the phone call to Hulkenberg was that Red Bull has four drivers and in this day of age with corona, you have to deal with it. We have Buemi as simulator/reserve driver but we want to be prepared in case, for example, two drivers get tested positive for corona.
“It’s like a back-up plan.” Eventually, it turned out to be a negative result for Albon as Hulkenberg went on to replace unwell Racing Point’s Lance Stroll in a short period of time. While the Thai racer retired due to radiator issue, the German finished eighth from 20th.
Amid the pressure on Albon to perform, Marko is keeping his options open by giving the Thai more time to deliver. The Austrian reckons if Red Bull is to look outside their programme, there’s only Sergio Perez and or Hulkenberg, who are free, at the moment.
“If Albon keeps his pace up, he can stay but looking outside at available drivers, we have only Hulkenberg or Perez,” said Marko. “We can compare those with what Ricciardo is doing or did but on a good day, Albon can do that as well. But I believe that nobody will get closer to Verstappen than three tenths.
“Although Albon is still young, if he can’t deliver under pressure, Red Bull can’t afford to take on the championship with just one car. You can’t take on the World Championship with just one car. Should Albon not perform, we normally look at their juniors and although we have a fast Japanese driver (Tsunoda), we can’t put him in Red Bull for his first year.
“AlphaTauri is the stepping stone, so that’s why, like other teams have done, we would have to look outside our squad. But it is just theory at this point as Albon is still doing what is asked of him so we don’t give up on him yet,” summed up Marko.
Interestingly, Marko said that they are perhaps set on three drivers while they have to fix upon the fourth one without revealing the names. The presenters guessed it to be Kvyat but the Austrian warned of Tusnoda’s superlicense situation as more races in F2 is to be completed. He said that by November they will have more clear idea.
Among other topics, in fact, Marko even stated that Alfa Romeo Racing’s Antonio Giovinazzi had an unclear COVID-19 test as well but it was fine like the Thai after a re-test. Regarding 2021, he feels Mick Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen will pair up.
The speculation was high for the announcement to come during the Eifel GP weekend itself from Spanish reports but Raikkonen cleared that he didn’t sign any contract extension then. On the topic of Schumacher, Marko also cleared why they did not pick him.
The Austrian stated that Schumacher is already a big name and carries good amount of sponsorships with him and has a solid management team behind him as well, but for Red Bull, their philosophy is to help youngsters who find it tough to find their feat.
Here’s the original Sport1 story: https://www.sport1.de/motorsport/formel1/2020/10/formel-1-auch-red-bull-wollte-nico-huelkenberg-fuer-den-eifel-gp
Here’s how the F1 Eifel GP panned out
Additional information/translation via @MsportXtra