Charles Leclerc has admitted that his first experience of the Mexican Grand Prix podium was ruined by the harsh treatment he received from fans upset by the part he played in Sergio Perez’s first-lap retirement.
Leclerc made contact with Perez at the first corner of the race, the collision sending the Red Bull driver skywards and out of his home race.
The Ferrari driver went on to finish third behind Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, with Leclerc booed during his post-race interview with Jenson Button at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez’s signature stadium section.
Sergio Perez fans take frustration out of Charles Leclerc
Leclerc addressed the crowd at one point to protest his innocence, insisting: “A lot of booing, guys. 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.”
Speaking in the post-race FIA press conference, Leclerc – now with four podium finishes to his name in 2023 – admitted he was disappointed by the reception he received.
He said: “Obviously, it’s my first podium in Mexico. I think it’s one of the most special podiums.
“On the other hand, on a day like this, it’s obviously not the most enjoyable one as there was quite a few booings once I got there.
“But I can understand that there’s a lot of disappointment for fans that have been waiting for this moment for a whole year and then they see their favourite driver out in Turn 1, which is a shame.
“But again, as I said on the incident, I couldn’t do anything better.”
Perez, whose Red Bull seat has come under huge scrutiny in light of a spectacular implosion since winning two of the opening four races of 2023, was keen to play down the collision with Leclerc as a normal racing incident.
He said: “To be honest, I wasn’t expecting Charles. He was in the middle, he had less room for manoeuvre and to brake that late – as late as I did or Max did – I think simply there was no room for three cars. It was a total racing incident.
“In hindsight – I shouldn’t say this – but maybe I should back off and go home. [But you do not want to] especially at your home grand prix.
“Especially [after] being two times in a row on the podium [in 2021/22], I went totally for it. I’m very sad with the end result because on the first lap, to end the race of your home grand prix, it’s definitely really sad.
“But on the other hand, I’m proud of myself because I gave it my all. Very proud of my team, we gave our all the whole weekend. We had probably the best start of the year so we just went for it.”