Charles Leclerc says he would “bet” on George Russell winning at the first attempt when he makes his Mercedes Formula 1 debut at this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix.

Russell will get the opportunity to fulfil his dream of racing for Mercedes in Bahrain as he deputises for seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who has tested positive for COVID-19 and will subsequently miss his first grand prix since making his F1 debut in 2007.

Leclerc reckons a “podium at least” is possible for Russell on his first race outing with the Silver Arrows as the Briton readies himself to battle it out with Valtteri Bottas.

“But I have some hope of a win,” Leclerc added. “It’s very optimistic but I know he’s very good. I would bet on a win.”

Meanwhile, McLaren’s Lando Norris - who raced against Russell in junior categories - suggested that Mercedes might not enjoy such a big advantage over its rivals this weekend around Bahrain’s Outer Track, although he still believes Russell is capable of achieving a win.

“I think he can achieve a pole,” Norris said. “I think he can achieve a win.

“If there’s any weekend maybe Mercedes have a smaller advantage than any other weekend its probably here. So he’s taken a step up into the team at probably one of the toughest weekends of the year in terms of their advantage that they probably have over the the rest of the field so it’s not going to be easy for him.

“But I know how good a driver he is, everyone else does too and of course Mercedes do as well. I’m expecting big things.”

Alex Albon also competed against Russell in GP3 and Formula 2 and backed the Briton to “show what he can do” in the fastest car on the grid.

“Obviously it’s exciting for the young generation, I guess,” he said. “I have no doubt he’s going to do the job.”

 

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