Understandable but not justifiable -- that was the view of Formula One's motorsport managing director, Ross Brawn, after watching the altercation between Max Verstappen and Esteban Ocon after Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix.
Verstappen's anger was triggered by Ocon taking him out of the lead of the race and, once the chequered flag had fallen, the Dutchman tracked down Ocon and repeatedly shoved him in the chest three times before storming off. Brawn believes the post-race incident exposed a flaw in Verstappen's character that he must address, but said it should not cancel out the his remarkable race to that point, which had seen him progress from fifth on the gird to the lead in the space of 40 laps.
"Over the past 10 years, no one has won the Brazilian Grand Prix from further back than the second row, but Max Verstappen came very close on Sunday," Brawn said. "He started fifth and passed all four drivers who had started ahead of him, but it wasn't enough to give him the win.
"The collision with Esteban Ocon came when the Frenchman was trying to unlap himself immediately after his pit stop and it cost Max dearly, sending him into a spin and leaving the door open for [Lewis] Hamilton [to win].
"The Dutchman's push in the closing stages was not enough to retake the lead and after that, Max vented his anger in parc ferme, making physical contact with Ocon. It was not an edifying sight and though understandable it was of course not justifiable.
"The incident with Ocon was a cruel moment, but in the aftermath Max showed he has made enormous progress in his career is still not able to manage his emotions in these situations, an essential next step.
"Having said that, one mustn't forget he is still very young and while his conduct wasn't justifiable we can all understand the frustration he felt after the incident and again at the end of the race, the outcome of which should not cancel out what was an amazing performance from the Dutchman. After all, it's not every day you drive past two Ferraris and two Mercedes.
"I'm sure Max will learn from what happened and that everything that happened, including the penalty he was given, will contribute to his development as a driver and mainly as a man."
But Brawn also called on Ocon to learn from the race and hinted that the Frenchman's decision to take on Verstappen might have stemmed from their season racing each other for the Formula 3 title back in 2014.
"And so we come to the other main protagonist of the key moment of the Brazilian Grand Prix, Esteban Ocon," Brawn said. "While the Frenchman was entirely justified in wanting to unlap himself, given that he was clearly quicker at that moment, it has to be said there was no reason for him to take on Verstappen as though he was fighting for his first win in Formula One.
He deserved the 10-second stop and go penalty he was given in the race. Drivers must not forget they are role models for the fans and for youngsters who want to follow in their footsteps.I don't think that Ocon, when he attacked Max during the race, was simply thinking of trying to get in the points. I believe it was more the case that he was caught up in the moment and didn't think it through, maybe fighting to the death with the race leader might not have been the best plan, even when that driver is one with whom you had some spirited fights in the lower formulae.
"Overall, Sunday was a lesson for both Verstappen and Ocon, one they won't forget in a hurry. It's just another part of their learning curve."