Russell backs Verstappen for Belgian GP victory despite grid penalty

·2-min read

Mercedes driver George Russell believes Max Verstappen will win Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix despite starting 15th on the grid, and doubts his own chances of a podium finish.

Defending Formula One drivers' champion Verstappen put in the fastest lap in qualifying on Saturday, but the Red Bull ace is among those who have been pushed to the back of the grid after being issued with penalties.

Verstappen, courtesy of his qualifying efforts, starts at the front of the queue of those handed engine penalties. Charles Leclerc, Esteban Ocon, Lando Norris and Zhou Guanyu line up behind him, with Mick Schumacher at the back after a gearbox penalty.

That gives Verstappen plenty to do if he is to extend his lead at the top of the championship in the first race after the mid-season break, but Russell is still expecting him to finish top of the pile.

"I think Max will probably still win the race. I don't know where he is going to be starting, but with the pace he has got he will probably still win the race," Russell said.

"And Charles [Leclerc] as well, he will probably still come through. So, I think it is unlikely that we will be on the podium tomorrow in all honesty, because we've still got Carlos [Sainz] and Checo [Perez] there and Max is going to slice through the field pretty quickly.

"We will need to look overnight, try and understand it. Qualifying is out of the way, which has been our weak point, and we'll try and be faster tomorrow."

While Verstappen is hopeful of a podium finish, his priority is to survive what is set to be a thrilling first lap at Spa with plenty of cars out of position, before eyeing a finish further up the field.

"I think with the pace we have in the car, I want to move forward, and I want to be at least on the podium," Verstappen said.

"I mean survive, of course, lap one – that's the most important. Then after that I need to pass a few cars before of course you get into a competitive position."

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz starts the race on pole ahead of Sergio Perez, with Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton on the second row while Russell and Alex Albon complete the top six.