Alex Albon has two races in which to demonstrate he deserves to stay at Red Bull next year, team boss Christian Horner said on Saturday.
Speaking ahead of qualifying at the Portuguese Grand Prix, Horner said the team wants the London-born Thai driver to prove they have no need to seek a replacement for 2021.
The team plans to raise its challenge next year, the last with Honda as engine suppliers, to combat Mercedes more directly in the constructors’ and drivers’ championships.
"He’s a popular member of the team, but we need two cars closer together in order to fight the Mercedes," said Horner. "That’s what we’ve got to do, that’s our target."
Albon has struggled for consistency in his second year in Formula One with Red Bull after a mid-season switch from Toro Rosso last year, his rookie season.
"We want Alex to claim that seat and basically justify that there is no need to look at any other alternative than Alex," added Horner. "I think everybody in the team wants to see him do that.
"It felt like, in Mugello, he was starting to turn the corner and so on. He’s had a couple of difficult weekends, so he needs to bounce back here I think and particularly at Imola with a strong weekend from start to finish.
"So that’s our focus, that’s our objective.”
Albon has contributed 64 of the team’s total of 211 points this year with team-mate Max Verstappen dominating him in qualifying and race performances.
Horner suggested that if the team felt his form this weekend and at next week’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was below par they would look beyond the Red Bull stable for a replacement.
"Alpha Tauri are pretty settled with their drivers so, as I say, our preference is very much Alex, but if we had a look at a different solution, then obviously we would have to look outside of the Red Bull pool of drivers simply because there is not one available that we would look to put in.
"There’s some quality drivers, obviously, on the market, that could be unemployed for next year."
That list would include departing Racing Point driver Sergio Perez, his team’s 'super-sub' reserve driver Nico Hulkenberg and the two Haas men Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen who are departing the American outfit at the end of the year.