SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (Reuters) - A weekend that began at the top of the timesheets for Max Verstappen ended with the Dutchman out of the points and in a war of words with Ferrari rivals after a nightmare Belgian Formula One Grand Prix.
The 18-year-old began Sunday's race alongside pole-sitter Nico Rosberg in the first front-row start of his fledgling career.
But any hopes he had of converting his qualifying display into a strong showing in front of legions of his orange-clad supporters, in a race that is the closest he has to a home event, quickly vanished.
Verstappen was leapfrogged by Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel off the line but attempted to make the places up on a tight first corner only for the three cars to collide.
"I think it was a very bold move trying to recover those two places in one corner diving down the inside," said German Vettel who was on the outside and collided with Raikkonen before the Finn and Verstappen's Red Bull made contact.
All three were forced to pit with damage to their cars, Raikkonen nearly losing a lap as mechanics rushed to extinguish flames emerging from beneath his Ferrari.
Raikkonen and Verstappen clashed twice more later in the race, including another collision, and the Finn was more upset about the Red Bull driver changing direction at high-speed as he chased him down the flat-out Kemmel straight.
"If I would not have braked we would have had a massive accident," said Raikkonen who criticised Verstappen over the radio during the race. "I'm sure it will happen sooner or later if this doesn't change."
Verstappen has impressed with his racecraft and overtaking skills but his driving has at times been called a bit too aggressive, especially in last month's Hungarian Grand Prix where he also clashed with Raikkonen.
The son of former racer Jos, though, said his racecraft had been fair.
"I'm just defending my position and if somebody doesn't like it, it's his own problem," added Verstappen who was fastest on the opening day of practice.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)