Red Bull are prepared to wait for Daniel Ricciardo to decide his Formula One future but have Spaniard Carlos Sainz as a ‘safety net’ if he opts to leave after 2018, team boss Christian Horner said on Monday.
He told reporters at the Mexican Grand Prix that he wanted the Australian to stay alongside Dutch 20-year-old Max Verstappen, who has a long-term contract.
The Red Bull driver is off-contract at the end of next season and is arguably the highest-rated driver on the market of the current grand prix grid.
Each of the big teams has a vacant seat alongside a big-name driver for the 2019 season: Mercedes alongside Lewis Hamilton, Ferrari alongside Sebastian Vettel, while Red Bull recently locked in Max Verstappen until the end of 2020.
‘The next move he makes at 28 years of age is a very important one for him. So of course I’m sure he’s going to take the time to make sure the decision is right for him,’ said Horner.
‘But he knows the intent very clearly, and I’ve discussed it with him, is that we want him in the team. If that takes another six months, then so be it.’
Verstappen won the race at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, his second victory of the season, while Ricciardo celebrated victory in Azerbaijan in June.
The Australian’s race ended after barely a handful of laps on Sunday, however, with a turbo problem.
‘I think he’s keen to see what engine performance looks like next year, which is understandable,’ said Horner.
Red Bull used Renault engines, branded Tag Heuer. While the former champions have won three times this year and taken more points than Ferrari in recent races, they have also suffered frequent failures.
‘He knows how we go about our racing and how we treat the two drivers, which he’s extremely comfortable and happy with,’ he said of Ricciardo.
‘I think, as his character has developed and as his personality has come across, he sees the fit between Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull.
‘I think he sees the capability that we have within the team. And I think he’s very happy in the team.’
Asked what would happen if Ricciardo decided to leave, Horner said Red Bull were prepared for that.
‘That’s why we kept Carlos Sainz on loan, that’s why we have options around us. We have a safety net but our number one objective is to retain the pairing that we have,’ he said.
Sainz has been loaned from Toro Rosso to Renault as part of an engine deal that allowed the Red Bull-owned team to end a contract with the French manufacturer and partner Honda next season.
Mercedes needing to find an instant replacement for Hamilton, Ricciardo would surely have been a walk-up start.
Unlike Ferrari and Red Bull, Mercedes’ junior driver pool is quite shallow. Esteban Ocon has impressed in his season alongside Sergio Perez at Force India, but it would be a gamble for Mercedes to bank on the 21-year-old Frenchman to be a world championship contender straight away.