Red Bull's Christian Horner says Carlos Sainz is the team's 'safety net' in the event that Daniel Ricciardo moves on from the Milton Keynes-based team at the end of next year.
While team mate Max Verstappen has committed to Red Bull until the end of 2020, the Aussie is in no hurry to decide his future, saying he'll take a look at his options once the 2018 season gets underway.
Paddock pundits believe Ricciardo could be in line for a drive with Mercedes in the future, and indeed the Honey Badger recently revealed he would love to challenge Lewis Hamilton on equal terms, while the newly crowned world champion returned the compliment, saying "it would be a privilege" to have Ricciardo at Mercedes.
Ricciardo's state of affairs is what prompted Red Bull to loan Sainz to Renault, rather than release the Spaniard from the energy drink company's family.
"That’s why we kept Carlos Sainz on loan, that’s why we have options around us," Horner told via Reuters.
"We have a safety net but our number one objective is to retain the pairing that we have.
"The next move he [Ricciardo] 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.
"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."