Charles Leclerc insists he has no problem with Max Verstappen’s defence at the start of the United States Grand Prix Sprint, claiming he “would have done the same”.

After being pipped to pole position earlier in the day by only 0.055s, Leclerc aced the launch to draw alongside Verstappen as the leading duo climbed the hill towards Turn 1.

However, Verstappen swiped across and pushed the Ferrari onto the pit exit, which then allowed Lewis Hamilton to get ahead of Leclerc on the exit of the first corner.

Nevertheless, the move proved inconsequential to either driver’s race as Verstappen comfortably won, while Leclerc dropped back to 8.5s behind Hamilton.

Reviewing the start, Leclerc, who held on to third, said: “There was an opportunity, there was a gap and I tried. But obviously then it was tight and I lost the position to Lewis but they were a bit stronger today in race pace.

“We expected them [to be] stronger and they were, so we need to work to try and understand what we can do better to be a step ahead tomorrow.”

Leclerc has also denied holding any issue with Verstappen’s combative manoeuvre, admitting that is how he prefers to go racing.

“To be honest, I would have done exactly the same if I was in his position,” he acknowledged.

“It’s on the limit, but as I’ve always said in the past, that’s the way I like to fight. So this today didn’t play in my way, but that’s fine. It’s part of racing and I’m happy with it.”

(L to R): Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari with Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing in Sprint Shootout. 21.10.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 19, United States Grand Prix, Austin, Texas, USA, Sprint Day.

Meanwhile, having immediately been wary that Leclerc “had a little bit of a better start”, Verstappen explains that he “tried to make it as difficult as possible for him to get into Turn 1 and luckily that worked out”.

He added: “It was not too bad from pole here. We got quite close into Turn 1, but luckily Turn 1 here is quite wide so you can enter with a few cars if needed.”

Verstappen would proceed to comfortably secure yet another victory, leading every lap and ending the 19-lap encounter a sizeable 9.4s ahead of Hamilton’s Mercedes.

The Dutchman will be made to climb from sixth if he wants to win Sunday’s grand prix, though, after getting his best lap time in qualifying deleted for exceeding track limits.

His mishap promoted Leclerc to pole, and the Monegasque racer is hopeful that Ferrari being the only team to split strategies in the Sprint will pay dividends in the race.

Carlos Sainz completed the entirety of Saturday’s shortened contest on the Soft tyre, holding his starting position of sixth by the end despite making progress at the start.

“At the end, we have quite a lot of data to analyse having the two cars on two different strategies,” Leclerc summarised.

“I think this will be a bit of a help for us because we know how the Soft tyre is behaving for tomorrow so I hope we can take advantage of that and hopefully we can win tomorrow.”

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