(Reuters) - George Russell's stunning form in qualifying and races this season shows that his Williams car is not as bad as people think, according to Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen.
The Briton qualified third for Sunday's Russian Grand Prix after also starting on the front row alongside Verstappen in a rain-hit and farcical Belgian round at Spa-Francorchamps in August.
The 23-year-old, who is moving to Mercedes next season as Lewis Hamilton's team mate, has scored in three of his last four races -- a remarkable turnaround for a team that had not previously taken a point in two years.
Once dominant champions in the 1980s and 1990s, Williams have been last in the standings for the past two seasons but have now risen to eighth.
"George for sure he’s a very, very good driver, but when you can do these kinds of things, it also shows that the car isn’t that bad," said Red Bull's Verstappen, who will start last on Sunday due to engine penalties.
"That car is not a Red Bull or a Mercedes but they also run more wing and more downforce, so naturally everything just starts to become a bit closer (in changeable and wet conditions)," the Dutchman added.
"Nevertheless he still did an amazing job but I think people have to understand that car isn’t as bad as people think it is."
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff told reporters he would not be surprised to see Russell leading Sunday's race, with third place on the clean side of the track and in a good position for an aerodynamic 'tow'.
McLaren's Lando Norris, whose car also has a Mercedes engine, starts on pole for the first time. Seven-times world champion Hamilton will line up fourth at a circuit where Mercedes have always won.
Russell was first to pit for slick tyres in Saturday's qualifying, taking a risk that those more invested in the championship battle were not prepared to take and reaping the reward.
"It’s crazy, you know. It’s my second time in the top three in three or four events," he said.
"The team have done an amazing job once again, pitting at the right time and putting the right tyres on. It was tricky out there.
"There was one dry line and if you were just a couple of centimetres too wide you would have been on the wet stuff and you would have been off.
"We will have a battle on our hands but we are pretty slippery on the straights, we have some nice straight-line speed, so we’ve got to go for the podium again -- nothing to lose."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London editing by Clare Fallon)