On an extremely slippery circuit, Verstappen went deep into Turn 1 and forced polesitter Leclerc to go off the track with him, coming out of the corner in front of the Ferrari driver.
The incident was soon investigated by the FIA stewards but rather than giving the position back to Leclerc Red Bull decided to cop a five-second penalty instead. Verstappen therefore enjoyed free air for the first stint as he tried to build a gap to offset the penalty taken the first pitstop.
While that plan failed as Leclerc fought back to reclaim the lead thanks to Ferrari's better use of the medium tyres, the Turn 1 clash renewed focus on the practice of drivers being able to cancel out penalties for illegal overtakes by gaining track position.
Last month the issue also came up in Austin when George Russell purposefully passed Oscar Piastri off the track.
Leclerc felt it was right to penalise Verstappen, but argued that forcing him to give up the position would have been more fair.
"Obviously, it was on the limit, over the limit, and I think the five-second penalty is deserved. It was tight," Leclerc said.
"He paid a penalty and I think that was the right penalty to give.
"I just think that in those kinds of situations, it would be better for the FIA to ask to give the place back, because I think there's quite a bit of an advantage to take care of tyres when you have free air. But yeah, it's the way it is."
Verstappen initially disagreed with his penalty and sarcastically told his team to give the stewards his regards, but afterwards admitted the punishment was justified.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner felt the penalty was "marginal" because often the stewards take a more lenient approach for first-lap incidents. He claimed that practice is also why Red Bull didn't ask Verstappen to reverse the positions.
"It was 50/50," he said. "They ran wide at that first turn, Max being slightly ahead.
"We thought it was in the realms of let them race in the first few corners or first lap, which is why we didn't reverse it.
"So, when he got the penalty it meant he had to do it the harder way. It was really marginal but we accepted it."