Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has criticised Max Verstappen for coming so close to scuppering Nico Rosberg’s title hopes with a first-lap crash in Mexico.
The Dutchman, starting just behind the championship leader from the second row, banged wheels with the Mercedes at Turn One and both drivers were fortunate to avoid major damage.
Verstappen escaped punishment for that incident but was later handed a five-second penalty for his driving when defending from Sebastian Vettel, and Wolff believes Verstappen must learn from his tricky afternoon.
“You could say that Max should have got a penalty for banging the wheels with the championship leader in Turn One and pushing him off the track,” said Wolff. “I think maybe the penalty he got at the end was a penalty for all the driving.
“As refreshing as it is and as ruthless as the great ones are, if you race the championship leader three races down to the end, wheel banging, this is not what should happen.”
The Mercedes team principal has been full of praise for Verstappen in the past, refusing to blame the teenager for his blocking of Lewis Hamilton in Japan and claiming he drives with “no fear and no respect”.
But it seems this was a step too far, with Wolff picking up on a radio message from Red Bull when Verstappen was attacking Rosberg later in the race which he felt was intended to avoid further controversy and contact. Verstappen eventually caught the German, only to fail with a passing move at Turn Four.
‘Seb should have been punished’
“It’s very refreshing how he drives,” Wolff added. “His driving is ruthless, I like that.
“I think the team gave him a radio call when he was catching up and said ‘keep it clean with Nico’. This is exactly what I would have said to him.
“You don’t bang wheels with the championship leader three races until the end. The team have given him that guidance but maybe in the car when the visor is down, it’s difficult.”
Verstappen felt Vettel’s wrath during and after the race for failing to give back a position after leaving the track and gaining an advantage, and Rosberg admits he thought his race was over after his collision with the Red Bull.
“He went over the limit,” protested Rosberg, who is 26 points clear in the standings with two races remaining. “He locked up the front tyre and went off the track. It may not look that big, but feeling-wise it was massive impact.
“I thought after that my car was done – my steering actually had a little bit of an offset.”