All Honda’s hopes of winning the home race in Japan were destroyed in the first lap.
Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc collided in corner 2, the Red Bull driver veered into the grass after a touch and had to give up the race 14 laps later due to massive damage to the RB15. He makes serious accusations against the Ferrari driver. The FIA stewards decided to reinvestigate the incident.
“We had a really good start,” reports Verstappen disappointedly after his retirement.
And then this: “I just stayed on the outside and thought I had the corner. Then in turn 2 Charles just drove into my side.” He couldn’t have done anything differently in that situation, the Dutchman stresses.
“We all know that you lose downforce behind a car, so that’s no excuse,” he anticipates Leclerc’s possible attempts to explain in an interview with Sky. And after the race the Monegasque actually cites too much understeer claiming “I had understeer behind Seb and Lewis, then we touched.”
Leclerc claims then that he couldn’t judge the situation without seeing the scene in the replay. “But out of the car it was just a tricky situation.” Verstappen, on the other hand, doesn’t let up and confirms his criticism: “I like a tough race, but that wasn’t a tough race. That was irresponsible driving.”
The Dutchman suspects that Leclerc wanted to compensate his bad start. “I left him room on the inner line and was ahead,” he defended himself. “I don’t understand what he was doing. Of course you always lose downforce from the car in front, but I had that too. I can’t understand what happened there.”
“That was quite stupid.” The team confirms that Verstappen’s car was too damaged to finish the race. Helmut Marko wades in saying:
“Unfortunately the damage was so massive, we lost more than 100 points downforce. That didn’t make any sense to go on.”
“That’s ironic: That was the best start of the whole season. And he was one car long in front and the Leclerc clearly drove into his car. Such a stupid mistake can’t happen to a top driver.”
Team boss Mattia Binotto remains relaxed in the “Sky” interview and says before the stewards decision “We’ll leave the decision to the stewards. We’ll accept whatever they decide.”
The Italian stresses: “To be honest, it’s very difficult here in Japan in the first corners. I don’t think Charles did it on purpose. But I can’t judge it completely.” He comes to the conclusion: “There was simply no room for two cars in this corner”.
Leclerc knows that what happened in lap 1 destroyed his race. He is by no means satisfied with sixth place: “Of course this is not the result we wanted. That’s disappointing. As far as strategy is concerned, we couldn’t have done anything better today.”
Despite the damaged front wing Leclerc stayed on track for several laps ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Only when a larger part of his front wing came loose and hit the Mercedes behind it – the side mirror was torn away – did Ferrari bring the Monegasque to the pits.
“That’s not possible”, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff post race.
“The parts fly away from the car. They are driving straight ahead at 350 km/h. To leave him out there is actually irresponsible.”
“The most absurd thing”, says Marko, however, was that the race control did not initiate an investigation into the incident at all at first, but only became active after repeating the scene several times. “I don’t understand anyway that they are investigating this after the race. Normally you get a penalty very quickly,” Verstappen agrees.
“What else should he do to get a penalty,” asks the 21-year-old and rages: “That’s ridiculous! He would have expected Leclerc to punish him immediately. “It’s ridiculous that this can happen without punishment.”