Verstappen led the early stages of the 24-lap F1 sprint after overtaking shock pole-sitter Kevin Magnussen into Turn 1 on Lap 3.

After initially breaking the one-second DRS gap to Russell, he was unable to break away from the British driver.

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Verstappen relinquished the lead on Lap 15, before losing further places to Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton.

The Dutchman was one of just two drivers to start on the medium tyre - a potential explanation for his unusual lack of pace.

Speaking after finishing fourth in the sprint, Verstappen conceded that Mercedes are the favourites on Sunday.

“At the moment they look unbeatable but we will analyse everything,” Verstappen said.

He added: “At the time it felt alright but it didn’t work. I think even on the softs I was going to be too slow. We clearly were having too much degradation here today. We will analyse it. I am not sure we can do a lot for tomorrow but it can’t be worse than today.”

“We will look at it tonight. At the end of the day when you have so much more degradation than another team it doesn’t matter what tyre you put on. We should try and improve that first but normally every tyre should work.”

Red Bull boss Christian Horner explained why Verstappen decided to start on the unfancied medium tyre and the potential advantage that will give him for Sunday’s grand prix.

“We felt that the soft was a bit limited in range so we took the decision to start on the medium. If we could survive the first 12 laps the second half of the race would become a bit more comfortable. Having survived the first half of the race, we ended up actually with a worse degradation than the softs. Mercedes had a very quick car today and we couldn’t hold them off.

“George has done a great job there. I think the soft tyre would have been better for us today but the advantage is we take that extra set into tomorrow’s race. What we give up today strategically, hopefully we might get back tomorrow.”