Verstappen started alongside polesitter Leclerc on the front row and ducked down the inside of the left-hand Turn 1 to grab the lead.
But, as grip was extremely limited on the brand-new surface, as evidenced by Fernando Alonso spinning off behind them and other drivers also making contact, Verstappen went deep into the run-off area, taking Leclerc with him.
Verstappen kept his lead while the stewards investigated the incident, and the Red Bull driver was soon handed a five-second penalty for pushing another driver off the track.
The world champion, who went on to take his 18th win of the season after a fierce challenge by the Ferrari man, admitted that he probably deserved his penalty even though behind the wheel he initially held a different opinion.
“We both braked quite late to defend the position, but I was a bit on the inside,” said Verstappen.
“As soon as you go offline here, it’s super low grip. And that’s what happened. I braked and there was no grip.
“I didn’t mean to push Charles off the track, but I couldn’t slow it down and just kept sliding on four wheels wide.
“At the time, I was also full of adrenaline and I was unhappy with the decision. But, looking back at it, that was probably the right call.”
Photo by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images
Charles Leclerc, Scuderia Ferrari, 2nd position, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position
Rather than offsetting the penalty by steaming away from Leclerc, by the end of the first medium tyre stint, Verstappen saw his gap to Leclerc close again and the Monegasque driver passed him right before the Red Bull man’s pitstop.
But, after pitting under a mid-race safety car, Verstappen used his fresher hard tyres to catch and pass Leclerc to clinch his latest victory, surviving contact with Mercedes driver George Russell along the way.
Verstappen attempted to pass Russell into Turn 12, but the unsighted Briton closed the door and was handed a 5s penalty himself for causing the collision.
“He didn’t do that on purpose,” Verstappen felt. “I think he just didn’t expect me to pass him into that corner.
“Because that’s how it felt, I put it on the inside and he just turned in like there was no one there. So, I guess he didn’t see me.”