There was a controversial flashpoint just seconds into Saturday evening’s race when Verstappen dive-bombed Leclerc for the lead at Turn 1, a move he completed by running the Ferrari driver out wide. 

Leclerc immediately called for Verstappen to hand the position back but he did not. Following a stewards’ investigation, the triple world champion was eventually hit with a five-second time penalty.

But Verstappen was able to overcome his punishment and later re-passed Leclerc to claim his 18th victory from 21 races the season in a thrilling spectacle under the lights on the world-famous Las Vegas Strip. 

“Obviously it was over the limit and I think the five-second penalty is deserved,” Leclerc said afterwards. 

“It was tight. I still tried to push off the track, but it was so low grip to try to keep that position, but it is the way it is. He’s been penalised, he paid the penalty, and I think that was the right penalty to give. 

“I just think in those kind of situations it would be better 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, but it’s the way it is.” 

Verstappen stressed he simply ran out of grip after going offline as he lined himself up for the overtake. 

“We both braked quite late but I was on the inside, on the dirt,” the Red Bull driver explained. “As soon as you are offline here it’s just super low grip.

“I braked and there was no grip. I didn’t mean to push Charles off the track but I couldn’t slow down. I kept sliding on four wheels, wide. So that’s why we had to go wide. 

“At the time you are full of adrenaline and I was not happy with the decision but looking back at it, it was probably the right call.”

The Dutchman added: “I think we opted to just stay ahead and then we take the five-second penalty. I don’t know what’s better in the end. 

“I paid the penalty in the end, so it doesn’t matter in a way. If you go back behind you probably end up losing five seconds, so it’s pretty similar I guess in the end.”

Leclerc was confident he would have won without the final Safety Car period, which both Red Bull drivers pitted under while he stayed out. 

“I really believe that without the Safety Car, the win was ours,” Leclerc said.

“We had on a really good first stint on the medium and I think we had five laps newer hard [tyres] than Max. I had a good four or five laps in order to bring them into temperature and we had done a really good job on that. So I was really confident that the win was ours.

“Then there was unfortunately the Safety Car. Max and Checo stopped and I stayed on my five-lap used hard – which is not too much, five laps, but the problem is that then when you cool them down during the Safety Car, to restart a used tyre is incredibly difficult with those temperatures. And there we lost the race.”

Leclerc, who has incredibly failed to convert his last 12 poles into a grand prix win, admitted he would have also stopped for a tyre change “now I know what they have done”.