Max Verstappen seeks out Charles Leclerc to discuss fierce Las Vegas GP battle

Michelle Foster
Charles Leclerc racing Red Bull in Las Vegas.

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc takes the fight to Red Bull at the 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix,

Although Max Verstappen was slapped with a time penalty for pushing Charles Leclerc off the track in Las Vegas, the Ferrari driver believes giving the position back would’ve been the better penalty.

Leclerc and Verstappen lined up on the front row under the lights in Sin City on Saturday night where the Red Bull driver made the better getaway.

Pulling alongside Leclerc into Turn 1, Verstappen pushed him wide with the two leaving the track before rejoining 1-2 with Verstappen in the lead.

Charles Leclerc: Obviously it was on/over the limit

Red Bull told the Dutchman he didn’t have to give the position back to Leclerc as he had his nose ahead, but the Monégasque driver argued otherwise to Ferrari.

The stewards agreed with his perspective and handed Verstappen a five-second time penalty for forcing another driver off the track.

But while Leclerc, who has already spoken with his rival about the incident, agrees a penalty was deserved, he feels the stewards should have ordered Verstappen to give the position back to him as running behind causes more tyre wear than experienced in clean air.

“Max already came to me and explained the situation,” he said. “Obviously it was on/over the limit. I think the 5s penalty is deserved. It was tight.

“I still tried to push off the track but it was so low grip. It’s the way it is. He has been penalised, he paid the 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 is quite an advantage to take of care of the tyres when you have free air.”

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A lost win in a strategy gamble

Leclerc finished the Grand Prix in second place after a last-lap-of-the-race pass on Sergio Perez, the final move in a thrilling three-way battle for the podium positions.

He, however, was left to rue the timing of the Safety Car.

“I really believe that without the Safety Car the victory would have been ours!” he said.

Ferrari opted during that Safety Car to keep Leclerc out, favouring track position over fresh tyres as his rubber was only seven laps old.

But with Red Bull pitting both their drivers, it was Verstappen and Perez who had the better grip.

“What a race, honestly, I enjoyed it so much, and of course, I am disappointed to only finish second, but at the end, it was the best we could do,” Leclerc said.

“At the start, it was very tricky because Max was on the inside with the grip and I was on the outside, but then we had the pace and passed him back, and we were really strong overall.

“We got a bit unlucky with the Safety Car, we didn’t pit because we didn’t know what the others would do.

“We went for track position and keeping that first place. That was difficult with the older tyres towards the end.

“But second place with a lot of fights, honestly I enjoyed it.”

Sunday’s result meant Ferrari closed the gap to Mercedes to just four points with only Abu Dhabi to come.

Read next: Sergio Perez explains main reason behind latest last-lap fail in Vegas