Max Verstappen was crowned the 2022 World Champion after his closest rival Charles Leclerc finished third in Sunday’s Japanese GP.
The race had its share of incidents and controversies involving drivers’ safety and race points. But didn’t stop Verstappen from getting the better of everyone at a wet Suzuka, besting a 27s lead in a rain-struck 28 lap Grand Prix, sealing the world title.
Starting at a slight drizzle, Leclerc took the lead momentarily after a breathless start by Verstappen. The latter out-braked the former into turn 1, swooping around the outside to take his place back with a stunning move. As is with wet race starts, there were drivers running off trying to navigate the plume of spray ahead. Sebastian Vettel lost it on the grass along the start finish straight, with Alex Albon coming to a halt due to an engine fault while Zhou Guanyu having a spin were among the smaller incidents.
The major lap 1 incident involved Carlos Sainz having a spin as he aquaplaned and hit the barriers. The race was red-flagged immediately. Although right before the restart, the Japanese GP was once again called off as the weather conditions worsened dramatically.
We need to talk about the Gasly-tractor incident:
After Sainz’s shunt, the race was red flagged to facilitate for the repairs and recovery. The circuit marshals released one of their recovery tractors a bit too early into the track: so much so, that there were multiple cars zipping right past it at 200kph. Visibility was as good as a morning fog, where Gasly found himself on a knife’s edge, crossing the tractor inexplicably close to it.
The race stewards took the incident up for investigation and deemed Gasly at fault for ‘over-speeding under red flag conditions’ (for which he will sustain a grid penalty at Austin). But that does little to sway away the FIA or the circuit organisers’ hand on this. The entire internet was rightfully outraged especially after F1 driver Jules Bianchi lost his life in 2014 at Suzuka, in scarily similar scenarios. The whole narrative of Pierre going 250+ doesn’t even hold in a situation of such poor visibility and track conditions. It’s a Formula 1 car! 100kph is what ‘slow’ is for them; even a slight nudge can put you in the wall (or into a tractor, in this case).
Gasly was visibly and vocally furious after the debacle, and even went on record saying “I could have f-ing killed myself”. The FIA have formally launched an investigation on the incident, as it is of no question that drivers’ safety must be the number one priority of the sport.
What happened in the actual Japanese GP:
After about a 2 hour delay, the race resumed behind the safety car with all drivers on full wet tires. With only about 3 laps past the start, all the cars started coming into the pits to change into intermediate tires, a chain reaction started by Sebastian Vettel. Most of the grid order was the same, except Mick Schumacher, who had to relinquish his career-first race lead, held for a mere 15mtrs, after a bizarre “stay-out” call by Haas.
The majority of the race action was dominated by Lewis Hamilton and Esteban Ocon’s titanic battle for P4; rather Ocon’s defence at P4. Hamilton tried his might for the better part of the race to strip off the Frenchman’s position, even coming too close to comfort at times. Yet the 7-time world champion always fell short of power coming up onto the straight past the famous 130R-turn. Wet race conditions aren’t accurately indicative of any car’s performance, but the Alpine’s series of effective and powerful upgrades over the last few races have proven its worth on track at the Japanese GP.
Sebastian Vettel had his day of days, after finishing P6 following his spin on lap 1. Fernando Alonso took P7 with a spectacular photo finish between the two world champions, just 0.011s separating those two! Russell took P8 while Nicolas Latifi held on to P8, giving himself the 20th place back in the standings. Lando Norris rounded up the final points place in another difficult race for McLaren.
At the front, Max Verstappen stretched his lead over Leclerc in P2 by about 20s. With conditions as treacherous as they were, the Dutchman just reiterated his wet weather prowess with no one even coming close to bring the fight up to him.
As it stood, Verstappen would not be champion as the required 8 point deficit (from this race) between him and Leclerc would not be established had the race ended as is. On the other hand, Perez in P3 was reeling Leclerc into the crosshairs. Perez did in fact get incredibly close to the sole remaining Ferrari, but the championship contender (well, sort of) put on a strong defence against the Mexican.
All the way until the last lap, the Red Bull and Ferrari drivers fought with Perez almost making contact with Leclerc at one point. At the final chicane, Leclerc bottled it: went off track, cut the chicane and re-joined still ahead. After what seemed like an obvious offense, Perez took a last shot at his competition along the final turn of the final lap, but was unable to make that move stick.
It did not take race control long to penalise Leclerc for his deed, as he was handed a 5s time penalty, dropping him down to 3rd. This then gave Verstappen his 2nd world championship, as with full points awarded (even after a shortened race), he would outscore Leclerc by 10points!
Max crossed the line not knowing how many points he’d get, while the podium finishers were informed only in the parc ferme that Leclerc was handed a place drop. The points controversy meant Max Verstappen was announced champion in perhaps the most anti-climactic way in F1 history.
Regardless, Max fans rejoice!
The controversy regarding points:
So, during the entire Japanese GP, David Croft, SkySports F1’s commentating premier, had kept the audience hooked on to the fact that full points shall not be awarded to the drivers (which would mean the championship battle was to move onto Austin). But that did not happen, did it? Although ‘Crofty’ wasn’t wrong, the rules were, in fact, fairly different from that.
Article 6.5 of the FIA’s sporting regulations mention that “IF a race is suspended in accordance with under Article 57, and cannot be resumed”, partial points will be awarded. BUT, in case the race ends under green flag conditions (with a minimum of 2 RACING laps), drivers will be given full points. As was the case for the Japanese GP.
We’re not exactly sure who in their right minds had the idea to make this rule. For example a race gets delayed for 2hrs 55mins, gets 2 racing laps done, and ends up being a full points’ race. Kind of a bummer isn’t it?
But all in all, none can call Max Verstappen undeserving of this year’s crown. He was unbeatable, and along with the absolute gift-to-mankind RB18 that Adrian Newey has created, the Dutchman was in a league of his own. Red Bull have kept their strategy right, and looked the most prepared for the championship. Add to all of that, a sensational wet weather drive in Honda’s home Japan to take the title, the Lion can surely revel in his double Dutch delight!
To stir up the drama pot, 10th October is when FIA release their Certificates of Conformity to the 2021 Budget Cap, and whisper in the paddock is Red Bull being one of the two teams said to have breached the $145Million cap of last year. As for the penalties if proven guilty, well we can only wait and watch.
Formula 1 goes to Austin, Texas for the United States Grand Prix in two weeks’ time, for the 4th last race of the season. If you liked what you read, be sure to check out our Motorsport page, and Car News page for the latest news. Also do check out our YouTube Channel for reviews and other informative videos!