Charles Leclerc protested his innocence in front of a partisan Mexican crowd after his contact with Sergio Perez ended the home hero’s race on Sunday.
Perez had a superb getaway from fifth on the grid for the Mexico City Grand Prix, drawing level with both Leclerc and Max Verstappen for the potential lead of the race come Turn 1.
With Leclerc stuck in the middle of a Red Bull sandwich, Perez made contact with the Ferrari driver that sent him up into the air, with the heavy landing damaging his floor, along with sidepod and wing damage on the Red Bull that proved terminal on the day for the Mexican.
Mexican GP crowd turn on Charles Leclerc after Sergio Perez retirement
Leclerc ran with a damaged front wing for his first stint before the mid-race red flag enabled him to change it, but Perez was unable to get back out of his garage despite his Red Bull crew working tirelessly to try and get him back out into the race.
Perez hit his steering wheel in frustration after coming into his pit box, but no investigation took place into that moment with it having been dubbed a racing incident.
Leclerc went on to take a podium finish, and his post-race interview in front of the fans would be a loud one, with the Ferrari driver having to talk over a chorus of boos – with a section of fans believing he was to blame for Perez’s early exit.
He acknowledged it immediately, and stated that he was caught in the middle of both Red Bull drivers heading into Turn 1.
“A lot of booing, a lot of booing, guys,” Leclerc said in the immediate aftermath of the race among the disapproving fans in the Foro Sol Stadium section.
“I mean, honestly, I had nowhere to go. I was a bit in between the two Red Bulls and unfortunately I touched Checo, but I had nowhere to go.
“It’s life, it damaged my car and unfortunately it ended the race of Checo, but on our end we maximised our race.
“So it’s life. Of course I’m disappointed to end the race of Checo like that, but I really didn’t do it on purpose and I had nowhere to go.”
In terms of a wider battle in the Constructors’ standings, Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were both overtaken by the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton on Sunday, with the seven-time World Champion leapfrogging both drivers for second place behind Verstappen come the chequered flag.
He admitted Mercedes were “just better” than the Scuderia in race trim, with Hamilton having been elated to take another podium on Sunday.
“We struggled a little bit with the hard at the restart,” Leclerc added. “Lewis was really quick on the medium and then they managed to have a really good degradation, so they were just better today and it’s life.”