Charles Leclerc insists he “had nowhere to go” in the opening corner clash that sent Sergio Perez out of the Mexico City Grand Prix.

Starting from pole position, Leclerc endured a sluggish getaway from the line and was immediately swarmed by Max Verstappen, who cut in between the two Ferrari drivers.

Behind them, Perez had also made a good launch and utilised the slipstream to position his car to the left of Leclerc into Turn 1 in an attempt to sweep right around the outside.

However, Leclerc ended up getting pinched between the two Red Bulls, resulting in the Ferrari driver making contact with Perez’s RB19 and sending it momentarily into the air.

Although Perez was able to nurse his car back to the pits, Red Bull elected to retire the Mexican after inspecting the damage, bringing a premature end to his race.

Leclerc would eventually battle through to claim third but was booed heavily post-race by the hoards of Mexican fans present at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

The Monegasque driver defended his involvement in the incident to the local fans, citing that he was unable to do anything to prevent the touch that sent Perez out.

“A lot of booing…guys,” he said. “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. So, it’s life.

“It damaged my car. And unfortunately, it ended the race of Checo, but on our end, we maximised our race.

“Of course, I’m disappointed to end the race of Checo like that, but I really didn’t do it on purpose. I had nowhere to go.”

Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB19 – crash at the start of the race. 29.10.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 20, Mexican Grand Prix, Mexico City, Mexico, Race Day

Despite having picked up minor wing damage, Leclerc had extended his opening stint to be running a comfortable second until the race was stopped on Lap 33.

Kevin Magnussen suffered a rear suspension failure that pitched his Haas car into a high-speed impact with the barrier at Turn 9, prompting the red flags to be displayed.

Leclerc, running the Hard tyre, was able to resist Lewis Hamilton’s on the restart but was powerless to defend from the Mercedes on Mediums, succumbing on Lap 40.

“We struggled a little bit with the Hard after the restart,” Leclerc conceded. “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.”

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