Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has reiterated his desire to retain the services of Daniel Ricciardo until at least 2020.
Last month, Horner described Ricciardo and his young team-mate, Max Verstappen, as the "best driver line-up in Formula One".
However, the Australian is about to enter the final 12 months of his contract and speculation over his future continues to swirl, with Mercedes and Ferrari both finishing comfortably ahead of Red Bull in the 2017 constructors' standings.
"We've just come through a long hard season, so the last thing we're going to be doing is getting into the depths of contract discussions," Horner told Sky Sports News.
"But I think early in the new year, once we've seen how the car's performing, how things are panning out, then it's our priority to make sure that we retain Daniel in the team until at least 2020.
"It's the first time he's effectively a free agent. It's also a critical time in his career, he's 28 years of age.
"This next step is going to be crucial for him and we just want to make sure we give him the right car to be able to deliver his potential."
Should negotiations with Ricciardo, a winner of five races in his four seasons with Red Bull's senior team, not progress in positive fashion, Horner insists his team have plenty of alternatives.
"We've invested a lot in the young driver programme over the years and we've got some great talent on the programme," he added.
"We're certainly not short of options."
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