The Red Bull driver has backed Mercedes’ George Russell as having the “potential” to be a future world champion. 

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Russell won back-to-back titles in GP3 (now F3) and F2 during his impressive ascent to F1, before impressing in sub-par machinery at Williams for three seasons. 

The 25-year-old Briton earned promotion to Mercedes for 2022 and claimed the team’s only victory in a torrid campaign as he unexpectedly outperformed teammate Lewis Hamilton

Russell ended his maiden season with Mercedes fourth in the championship, two places and 35 points clear of Hamilton as he became the first teammate to inflict a defeat on the seven-time world champion since Nico Rosberg in 2016. 

And Verstappen, who is looking to secure his third consecutive drivers’ crown in 2023 after romping to last year’s title, believes Russell will fight for championships once he has a competitive-enough car. 

"George is part of the generation with Lando and Charles and me that grew up together," the Dutchman told the Daily Mail.

"I raced against George a bit in karting, though he's a year younger. You could see straight away he was good. 

"It came naturally to him – he didn't need a lot of laps to be quick. 

"He could jump straight in and battle at the front.”

Verstappen continued: "He has the potential to be a World Champion. 

"I haven't spent too much time with him, but he is a good lad. 

"He has just moved to Monaco, so I may see more of him from now on.”

Verstappen’s arrival at this weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix has been delayed due to him being struck down by an illness. 

The reigning world champion will skip Thursday’s media day after suffering from a “stomach bug” but is expected to be ready for the opening day of track action on Friday.