Charles Leclerc says the FIA should have told Max Verstappen to let him past after the Red Bull driver forced him off the track at the start of the Las Vegas Grand Prix.
The pair lined up on the front row but went off at the first corner as the field struggled for grip at the start of the race. Leclerc started from pole position but Verstappen moved to pass him on the inside and ended up forcing his rival wide.
While Red Bull told their driver not to give up the position he had gained, Leclerc told his team on the radio it was a “joke” Verstappen had not been ordered to let him back past. The stewards eventually handed Verstappen a five-second time penalty.
Leclerc said he understood how difficult it had been for Verstappen to avoid running wide, but felt he deserved to be penalised.
“Max already came to me and explained the situation,” said the Ferrari driver. “Obviously it was on the limit, over the limit and I think the five seconds penalty is deserved.
“It was tight. I still tried to push off the track – but it was so low grip – to try and keep that that position. But it’s the way it is. He has been penalised, he paid the penalty and I think that was the right penalty to give. So it’s like this.”
However Leclerc said the correct thing for the FIA to do would have been to order Verstappen to let him past again. By staying ahead, Verstappen was able to keep his tyres in better condition, said Leclerc.
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“I just think that in those kind of situations it would be better to 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.”
Verstappen said he accepted his penalty. “The start was good but we both braked quite late to defend the position, but I was a bit on the inside on the dirt, I guess.
“As soon as you’re a bit off-line 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 down, I just kept sliding on four wheels, wide. So that’s why we had to go wide.
“At the time you’re also full of adrenaline and I was not happy with the decision but looking back at it, it was probably the right call. After that, of course, with that five seconds, it was definitely a bit harder to come back…