Max Verstappen says Red Bull knew it would have to switch back to Renault’s B-spec Formula 1 engine at some point this season as the C-spec upgrade introduced at Monza would face difficulty on high altitude tracks.

Red Bull driver Verstappen switched to the updated C-spec engine supplied by Renault for the Italian Grand Prix, but encountered reliability issues with it during his run to second place in Singapore two weeks ago that meant an engine change and subsequent penalty was likely for Russia.

However, Verstappen said Red Bull knew it would have to take a penalty and revert to the B-spec Renault engine at some point as the C-spec engine cannot run at high altitude, meaning it would struggle in Mexico, where the track is over 2,000 metres above sea level, and Brazil (over 700 metres).

“Our C-spec cannot run in high altitude in Mexico and Brazil, so we always knew since we took the C-spec on that we had to take another B at one point,” Verstappen said.

“I think this is the best place to do it, also to have more spare parts in case something breaks down.”

Having run the C-spec engine at Monza and Singapore, Verstappen said that while he could feel an improvement in one-lap pace, he felt it was not as good in the race.

“The C-spec has a bit more power in qualifying, but it’s the same or maybe a little slower in the race,” Verstappen said.

“but it’s all about qualifying. We would always want to take another tenth or 1.5 tenths if the engine gives it to you. That’s why we decided to take the C-spec.”

With Verstappen set to be joined at the back of the grid by Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo and Honda-powered drivers Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley, the Dutchman feels a top-five finish is realistically the best result he can hope for.

“Back to fifth and sixth normally, that’s our target. I think pace-wise, we anyway should get there,” Verstappen said.

“It just depends how easily you can overtake on this track. We’ll focus of course maybe a little bit more on a long run than a short run, and then try to set up the car in a good way.”