AUSTIN, Texas — Max Verstappen had just wrapped up a big week in Texas with a brilliant pass of Kimi Raikkonen on the final lap of the U.S. Grand Prix to earn a third-place finish.

Or so he thought.

Red Bull’s 20-year Dutch driver, nicknamed “Mad Max” for his aggressive and sometimes controversial driving style, had barely reached the cool-down room and taken a swig of water when race officials informed him he’d been given a 5-second penalty. It was determined Verstappen’s car had left the track and gained an improper advantage when passing Raikkonen.

Relegated to fourth, Verstappen rubbed his chin, shook his head and took off. His team was livid.

“It’s a very poor decision,” Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner said. “That’s a shame, because the American public deserved that finish. It’s a shame that’s been taken away from them.”

Verstappen said moves like his happened throughout the race.

“We had a great race but with those stupid decisions you really kill the sport,” Verstappen said.

It was similar to the 2016 Mexican Grand Prix when a hard-charging Verstappen ran through the grass to hold position on Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel for third. Verstappen reached the cool-down room, shook hands, then was told he wouldn’t get to join the champagne celebration.

Back then, Verstappen also complained other drivers did the same thing, noting Lewis Hamilton had done the nearly identical move on the first lap in a race he won.

Red Bull’s anger at losing the podium spoiled a big week for team and driver. Red Bull announced on Friday it had extended Verstappen’s contract through 2020 and he responded with one of the best drives of the race.

Verstappen had to start 16th after being penalized for using a new engine. Red Bull called it a strategic move because the power upgrade at a track that allows room to pass would give him a chance to fight for the podium. Verstappen had been in top form with a win in Malaysia and second place in Japan in the previous two races.

Verstappen sliced his way through the field from the start. He briefly held the lead before his first pit stop tire change.

Verstappen was bearing down on Raikkonen and passed him on turn 18 of 20 in the final lap, pumping his fist as the crossed the finish line.

“You are brilliant! Fantastic drive!” the Red Bull garage told him over the team radio, unaware that the penalty was coming.

Raikkonen, who has criticized Verstappen’s driving in the past, didn’t have much to say this time.

“I was just (upset) he got past,” Raikkonen said. “I was surprised I got to go to the podium. I haven’t seen it. I don’t really know where he went.”


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JIM VERTUNO
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