Verstappen ran deep into Turn 1 and forced polesitter Leclerc to run wide and completely off the circuit as he completed the move to snatch the lead at the start of Saturday evening’s race.
Leclerc demanded that Verstappen should hand the place back over team radio but Red Bull told the triple world champion to maintain position while the incident was investigated by the stewards.
Verstappen copped a five-second time penalty and despite losing the lead to Leclerc thanks to Ferrari’s better tyre usage, the Dutchman wrestled it back to win F1’s first race in Vegas since 1982.
“I thought it was a great race, and if you look at it from our perspective, we picked up a penalty in the first turn that was marginal,” Red Bull team principal Horner said.
“We thought it was marginal under the guise of ‘let them race’ and both cars ran wide, but that obviously put Max on the back foot a little on the Medium tyre.
“It was 50-50. They ran wide at the first turn, Max being slightly ahead.
“We thought it was in the realms of let them race in the first few corners or first lap, which is why we didn’t reverse it.
“So, when he got the penalty it meant he had to do it the harder way. It was really marginal but we accepted it.”
Leclerc felt Verstappen should have been asked to give back the lead after pushing him off the track, but said his punishment was ultimately “deserved”.
“Obviously, it was on the limit, over the limit, and I think the five-second penalty is deserved. It was tight,” the Monegasque explained.
“He paid a penalty and I think that was the right penalty to give.
“I just think that in those kinds of situations, it would be better for the FIA to ask to give the place back, because I think there’s quite a bit of an advantage to take care of tyres when you have free air. But yeah, it’s the way it is.”