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F1: Max Verstappen unrepentant over Esteban Ocon altercation

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Not only is Max Verstappen unrepentant over his altercation with Esteban Ocon at the Brazilian Grand Prix, he suggests the French driver got away lightly with a few shoves to the chest.

Although he had already been lapped and had little to fight for, Ocon refused to let race leader Verstappen past him two weeks ago. The pair tangled, sending the Dutch driver spinning back to second place and pushing Lewis Hamilton up to first at Interlagos.

It cost Verstappen his third victory of the season, and sixth of his Red Bull career. He stopped a post-race interview when he saw Ocon, squaring up to his rival and shoving him three times before angrily pointing a finger at him as he walked away.

Asked at the Abu Dhabi GP on Thursday if he had regrets, Verstappen replied: “No, not really. I was after an apology and I got a different response.”

“I lost a victory, so I think from my side I was really calm. It could have been much worse,” added the 21-year-old Dutchman, who is known as much for his fiery temper as his daredevil driving. “I thought it was quite a calm response. What do you expect me to do? Shake his hand and say, `Thanks very much’.

Although Ocon breached race etiquette as a back-marker by not moving aside for the leader, Verstappen seemed equally upset by the Force India driver’s comments.

“You guys don’t hear what’s being said … You just see me pushing,” he said. “But if you understood the whole conversation, I think it would be different.”

Ocon’s words were “something I didn’t expect to hear,” Verstappen added, before using an expletive.

The Red Bull driver must now perform two days of public service within six months, a punishment he calls harsh.

“We’re not robots,” Verstappen said. “We are all here to win. You are in that position and it gets taken away from you.”

At a news conference on Thursday, the two men sat with Ferrari pair Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen between them.

Ocon was stone-faced throughout but had his say.

“It’s not a great thing to be involved in a crash with the leader,” he said. “I’m sorry for Max. It was his race to win.

“The team came on the radio saying, `You can un-lap yourself if you want, if you are faster.’ I just went for it,” the 22-year-old Frenchman said. “Even if Max said the opposite, he would like to come back on what he did after the race.”

The pair have competed since their karting days. Verstappen was evasive when they were asked how they felt about each other, Ocon more forthcoming.

“I will respond, if he cannot, I will,” Ocon said. “We’ve been racing a long time. The important thing is it stays good racing and good fun for the fans, but doesn’t go over the top.”

Four-time world champion Vettel has had altercations in the past with Verstappen and former teammate Mark Webber.

“We are here to fight for something that means the world to us. For people watching, it’s a show. For people reporting about the show, it’s a job. For us it’s a job, but it’s our lives,” Vettel said. “Emotions are part of sports.”

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Cooper Webb leaps from obscurity to Supercross lead

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Cooper Webb could not even locate the radar tower before the 2019 season began – let alone expect to see his number dead center in the radar screen.

His ascent to 450 competition came with little fanfare. Finishing 13th in Supercross in 2017 and then eighth in Motocross, Webb did not turn many heads as a rookie. Last year was more of the same.

Through Round 7 at Arlington, Webb failed to record a single top five. That elusive result would come the following week at Tampa with a fourth-place finish. Two weeks later, he stood on the podium at Daytona for the only the second time in his Supercross 450s career. But at season’s end, Webb was only ninth in the standings in both Supercross and Motocross.

No one expected much from him when Anaheim rolled around this year.

Webb started the season much the same as he ended 2018. A fifth-place finish in Anaheim I in muddy and equalizing conditions was followed by a modest 10th at Glendale, but the rider from North Carolina believed in himself.

In professional racing, nothing is more difficult than winning the first race. Webb’s first taste of victory came in Heat 1 of the Triple Crown at Anaheim II. Everyone remained skeptical – it was only one heat race after all. The skepticism turned to interest when he won Heat 2. Then Webb finished third in Heat 3 to take the overall victory. It was his first win in the 450 class.

That was all it took to unleash his potential. Webb won the following week in Oakland and then again two weeks later in Minneapolis.

The Supercross riders left Minnesota and headed straight down Interstate 35 to Arlington with four of them separated by two points. All eyes were focused on Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin – and, oh yeah Webb who sat in second.

Someone was likely to stumble in Arlington and the odds on favorite to do so was Webb. That seemed to be confirmed once the feature started. While the three more experienced riders led by Tomac scooted away from the field, Webb was mired outside the top five for the first six lap.

It was Tomac who tripped and fell, however. Webb passed the stricken rider and surged to fifth on Lap 7. He was in fourth by Lap 10 and third on Lap 16.  As Webb and teammate Musquin battled for the second, they slowly reeled in the leader Roczen. Once Webb broke free on the conflict with the runner-up position firmly his, he could see the red plate on Roczen’s Honda like a cape being waved in front of a bull.

Webb charged through the final six laps getting closer and closer until he edged Roczen for the closest finish in Supercross history. It was Webb’s fourth victory of the season, coming only four weeks after he scored his first career win.

Relive the final laps in the video posted above.

As incredible as Webb’s rise to the points lead is, it has been done before.

Last year Jason Anderson seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the standings after Round 2. Anderson held the advantage for the remainder of the year, while Webb has been part of a game of hot potato in which no one seems to want to don the red plate for more than a week.

The pressure continues to mount. Webb now has a two-point advantage over Roczen, who is the only rider to sweep the top five this season.

Webb’s advantage over third is a mere four points, while Musquin has a current five-race streak of podium finishes to his credit.

Tomac’s trouble in Texas serves as a cautionary tale that a single loss of focus can be devastating and Webb still lacks the seat time of his three principal rivals, but last week’s incredible come-from-behind victory is showing that Webb is riding above experience level.

Follow the complete Supercross and Motocross seasons on NBC Sports, Gold.