Verstappen secures second Formula 1 World Title

SUZUKA, JAPAN – OCTOBER 09: Race winner and 2022 F1 World Drivers Champion Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing and Second placed Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrate on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on October 09, 2022 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images ) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202210090392 // Usage for editorial use only //

It’s official, he’s done it again!

Max Verstappen has secured his second World Championship over Charles LeClerc and teammate Sergio Perez, winning the rain-soaked and shortended Japanese Grand Prix. After some confusion post race due to the weather impacted race, it was ruled that Verstappen had secured enough points over Charles LeClerc after the Ferrari driver was penalized 5 seconds due to cutting a chicane during his defense of 2nd place from Perez.

With the 3rd place finish,and a statement from the FIA stating that full points would be awarded for the rain shortened race, LeClerc’s chance at his first drivers championship came to an end with four races remaining on the 2022 Formula 1 schedule, ending the Scuderia’s shot at it’s first driver’s title since Kimi Raikkonen in 2007.

Chaos from the start

After narrowing edging our LeClerc in qualifying Verstappen and the Ferrari drivers lined up in positions 1-3 on the grid, setting the stage for a battle of titans that could determine the fate of the championship. Overnight rains saturated the course  and the persistant storms kept pounding the track on race day, forcing teams to prepare for a full wet race and prompting may to ask “when will/will the rain stop?”.

As the gird condensed into their starting positions after a soggy warmup lap, video feed showed many puddles and rivers along the track that would soon prove to be a deciding factor in what was to come.

With lights out, Verstappen and LeClerc took off at nearly identical times, with the Scuderia driver taking a slight edge on the inside line against Verstappens. However, as the conditions were poor, the line through the corner favored the Red Bull driver as he was able to clear LeClerc into the right handed turn 1 and 2 complex as the remainder of the field stacked in behind them. Visibility soon became an issue as the spray from the intermediate tires and powerful ground effects turned the circuit into near white-out conditions behind the Dutchman.

Within half a lap, chaos ensued. Heading into 200R, Carlos Sainz lost control of his Ferrari as it aquaplaned off the circuit and into a barrier, sending him spinning back onto the track in the middle of a charging field of cars. Moments later, Alex Albon pulled off course, his Williams suffering a failure due to contact earlier in the lap with the Haas of Kevin Magnussen. With two cars stranded, the FIA was forced to send out a safety car to collect the field before the first lap had even ended.

As the drivers queued behind the safety car, they began to voice their concerns to the teams via radio. Said Lando Norris to his team:

‘The visibility is too bad. It’s too much water. You can’t see a thing – it’s too dangerous. You can’t even see the guy who crashed…’

Meanwhile, Pierre Gasly was about to be involved in a string of events eerily similar to the fateful events of 2016 at this same circuit in these same conditions.

Red Flag

With driver visibility quickly became an issue, Formula 1 issued a red flag order and halted the race on lap three, having comepleted zero laps under safety car conditions.

Pierre Gasly, having rejoined the circuit after pitting with front wing damage as a result of the prior Sainze incident, was in route to the back of the grid, running a safety car delta time as he attempted to meet the pack prior to a potential green flag scenario. As the red flag was being thrown, Gasly was shocked at the 200R corner with the sight of a crane parked on the side of the track in near-impossible visibility conditions. Immediately he jumped on the radio, incensed by the sight of the crane:

‘What the- what is this tractor? What is this tractor on track? This is unacceptable! Remember what has happened! Can’t believe this…’

Commentators and the internet burst into a flurry of activity as the sport reeled back to the fateful events in 2016, when under similar circumstances Formula 1 driver Jules Bianchi crashed into a parked recovery tractor under yellow flag conditions and subsequents passed due to his injuries. Gasly and other drivers ripped into the officials for the race, citing poor judgement on their part to bring a vehicle on track during the abismal racing conditions.

With the gird back in pit lane, the race time clock slowly ticked away and thousands of Japanese fans wondered if they would see any racing at all.

48 minutes

With 55 minutes left on the time clock, race director Eduardo Freitas gave the indication that the field would resume racing and they would start behind the safety car with full wet tires being mandatory. Teams were unable to lobby their own tire choice, which meant teams would have to pit almost immediately after the green flag was shown. The safety car led the field back onto the track after one of the longest red flag periods in Formula 1 history with only 48 minutes left on the race clock, however drivers were still not convinced that conditions were appropriate to continue racing in.

Daniel Ricciardo felt the track wasn’t too terrible in most locations, with a river in the esses being the most polarizing area of concern, which both Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton agreed that they would be too far from using intermediate tires in these conditions and would be forced to drive on the much slower full wets for an extended time period. Further down the field, Valterri Bottas remained convinced it was not the correct time to race, citing to his team ‘I can not see anything, it needs to be red flagged’,

After over 2 hours of delays, Frietas made the call that the race would resume and what was riginally a 53 lap affair in the Japanese countryside was reduced to a 45 minute sprint to the finish. Immediately after taking the start, Sebastian Vettel dived into the pits for intermediate tires and began to match the leaders on his first lap back on track. Verstappen and LeClerc took note of this and sooner after both drivers came in for the same tires – followed by Perez, Ocon, and both Mercedes drivers. Fernando Alonso pushed his full wets for an additional lap, briefly holding the lead of the race, before also pitting and giving up the spot once more to Verstappen ahead of LeClerc and Perez.

As the laps clicked off, LeClerc’s set of intermediates becan to fade after he was initially outpacing Verstappen, allowing the Red Bull to pull away as Perez loomed behind the Ferrari. The Red Bull driver, having taken care of his tires, pushed LeClerc to make a mistake, but was unable to pass him. On the final lap, Verstappen having crossed the finish line over 30 seconds ahead of the two battling drivers, Perez and LeClerc continued to battle for the 2nd position. Going into the final chicane, LeClerc ran off track under braking, rejoining just ahead of the Red Bull and blocked Perez to prevent losing out to 2nd position, and thus pushing the drivers title to Austin, TX.

Much to LeClerc and Ferrari’s detrement, the incident was soon under review and post race LeClerc was slapped with a 5 second time penalty, dropping him to 3rd place and sealing the driver’s championship for Verstappen.

Two-time Champ

SUZUKA, JAPAN – OCTOBER 09: Race winner and 2022 F1 World Drivers Champion Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates with his team after the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on October 09, 2022 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images ) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202210090540 // Usage for editorial use only //

With the most successful year at Red Bull since Sebastian Vettel’s 2012 campaign that saw him win 13 of 18 rounds, Verstappen’s 12 victories in 18 races is a remarkable achievement and no doubt makes him a deserving champion. But, the story almost continued after the checkered flag fell as many were left wondering if he had truly clinched the championship.

Although he had won, and LeClerc finished 3rd behind Perez, because the race distance had been less than 75% of the total race distance, only partial points would have been awarded to the top 10 finishers as outlined with the new sliding points scale instituted by the FIA after the Spa race in 2021. That race, run only under safety car for 3 laps, awarded half points to the team although less than 50% of the race distance was covered, leading many to question if the points for that round should have been awarded at all.

With Suzuka enough laps had been run on the new system that would allow Verstappen to claim 19 points, not the full 25 that is usually doled out. With this math, the title would have not clinched in Japan and instead would be going to Austin, TX. In park ferme however, Verstappen was as confused as everyone else as the FIA sorted out how the points would be finished. Instead of being thrust into the spotlight, he was awkwardly pulled to the side and informed of the championship due to a rules technicality in how the time limits were imposed.

Max Verstappen was now a two-time world champion.

Sergio Perez, thrilled with his teammates title, was equally as pleased to have claimed 2nd place with some help from the stewards after LeClerc’s mistake:

‘He was making it really hard, so I knew that the only way I could get him was if I push him into a mistake. Towards the end, I thought there was one more lap left so when he went off, I thought that was going to be the opportunity.’

Although the race left many with lingering controversy and confusion, Verstappen and Red Bull were able to triumph once more as they did in 2021, and with 5 more years on his contract with Red Bull, Verstappen feels there is no reason their string of success would not continue:

‘If I have a competitive car, I’m confident that we can keep this going. It also depends on what the competition is going to come up with. But I really believe in this group. And I really hope that in the coming years, we can enjoy a lot more wins, and potentially, of course, championships.’

SUZUKA, JAPAN – OCTOBER 09: Race winner and 2022 F1 World Drivers Champion Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on October 09, 2022 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202210090387 // Usage for editorial use only //