Red Bull fully intends to retain Alex Albon for the 2021 Formula 1 season but is “aware” of alternative options, according to team principal Christian Horner.

Out-of-contract drivers such as Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg have been linked as potential left-field options for Red Bull should it decide not to continue with Albon, who has struggled to match the performances of teammate Max Verstappen, though Horner has reiterated it has no plans to change its driver line-up for next year.

Horner previously stressed at the Tuscan Grand Prix that it would not make sense for Albon and Pierre Gasly to switch back their respective seats at Red Bull and AlphaTauri, despite Gasly’s strong form so far in 2020 which included the Frenchman claiming a shock maiden F1 win at Monza.

“Our intention is absolutely to retain our current drivers and Alex is our preferred choice,” Horner said when he faced the media ahead of the Russian Grand Prix on Friday.

“Inevitably, you have to be aware of what the other options are out there. But our absolute preference and likelihood is to retain the existing driver line-up that we currently have.”

Horner hinted that a final decision is yet to be taken by Red Bull but said that it will “certainly be before Christmas”.

“All drivers are under contract to Red Bull for multiple years,” Horner explained.

“There are trigger points at different times in their contract but it’ll certainly be later in the autumn.

“Our intention is to retain Alex, he’s doing a good job.

“He just needs to build on the kind of performance as he put it in Mugello and continue that development.”

After picking up his first-ever podium finish at Mugello, Albon opened his team radio to tell Horner: “thanks for sticking with me”.

Asked whether the message indicated that Albon was feeling vulnerable in his position at Red Bull, Horner replied: “He only feels vulnerable because you guys [the media] keep telling him every week that we should put somebody else in the car.

“It was really good for him to get that result, he came close in Brazil last year, he could have won the opening race in Austria and obviously got turned out of that race.

“To get that first podium and he had to do it the hard way… Daniel [Ricciardo] is one of the hardest racers on the track and to pass him around the outside of Turn 1 as he [Albon] did, it was a great performance from him.

“You can already see him walking a little bit taller, I think that will give him confidence and hopefully he’ll build on that.

“He has got the full support of all the team. I think the team’s doing a good job with him, I think his race engineer is extracting more from him and I think that confidence is growing.”