Max Verstappen was initially unhappy with the stewards’ decision to hit him with a time penalty for running Charles Leclerc off the track at the start of the Las Vegas GP, but in hindsight he admits it was “probably the right call”.
Verstappen lined up in second position on the front row, alongside Leclerc but the Red Bull driver enjoyed a better launch than the poleman and claimed the inside line into the first corner.
However, the Dutchman ran the Ferrari driver off the track as they negotiated the first sequence of corners before powering ahead with Leclerc in tow.
“This needs to be addressed now,” Leclerc immediately told his team over the radio, suggesting that Verstappen’s move warranted a penalty.
However, the grip level at Turn 1 was precarious across the entire width of the track, which caught out Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz but also Fernando Alonso who spun his Aston Martin in the middle of the pack.
But the stewards’ awarded no mitigating circumstances to Verstappen and ultimately hit the Red Bull driver with a 5s penalty.
“Give them my regards,” replied a sarcastic Verstappen when his Red Bull race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase informed him of the sanction.
“We both braked quite late to defend the position but I was a bit on the inside,” Verstappen recounted. “As soon as you go offline here, it’s super low grip. And that’s what happened. I braked and there was no grip.
“I didn’t mean to push Charles off the track, but I couldn’t slow it down and just kept sliding on four wheels wide.
“At the time, I was also full of adrenaline and I was unhappy with the decision. But looking back at it, that was probably the right call.”
As the pair put their head down, Verstappen tried his best in the 15 laps that followed to shake off Leclerc, but to no avail. It was the Monegasque who reeled in the Red Bull and took command of proceedings on lap 16.
But Red Bull took advantage of a mid-race Safety Car to call Verstappen in and bolt on a fresh set of hard tyres while Ferrari opted to keep Leclerc out on the track.
The Dutchman eventually made up the lost ground as he passed Gasly, Piastri and Perez before catching and overhauling Leclerc for the lead on lap 37 of 50, surviving along the way a nasty encounter with the Mercedes of George Russell at Turn 12 when the Briton turned into the corner
“He didn’t do that on purpose,” Verstappen felt. “I think he just didn’t expect me to pass him into that corner.
“Because that’s how it felt, I put it on the inside and he just turned in like there was no one there. So, I guess he didn’t see me.”
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