Japanese GP: Max Verstappen wins chaotic, rain-shortened Suzuka race to clinch 2022 F1 title
Max Verstappen dominated a rain-shortened Japanese Grand Prix to seal his second world championship; post-race five-second penalty for Charles Leclerc, demoting the Ferrari to third, sealed title for Verstappen; Sergio Perez completes Red Bull one-two
Last Updated: 09/10/22 2:06pm
Max Verstappen won a chaotic, rain-shortened Japanese Grand Prix to seal his second Formula 1 world championship amid huge confusion.
After a race where only 29 of the 53 scheduled laps were completed due to heavy rain at Suzuka, Verstappen was crowned champion after a five-second penalty for Charles Leclerc dropped him to second behind Sergio Perez.
"The first one is a little more emotional, the second one is more beautiful," said Verstappen, who romped clear from Leclerc and Perez's battles to win by over 20 seconds despite the tricky conditions and lack of laps.
- Japanese GP: Final race result
- Verstappen crowned champion amid F1 confusion | 'Second title more beautiful'
- WATCH: Chaos at the start of the Japanese GP
"That was worthy of winning a world championship," said Jenson Button of his drive.
There was previously uncertainty over whether full or partial points would be awarded for the race, as most believed only 19 points would be awarded due to less than 75 per cent of the laps being completed. But for the Japanese GP there was a different interpretation of the rules, which state that the reduced points are only applied if a race is suspended "and cannot be resumed".
Verstappen was clearly confused by the situation as celebrations began and were then paused, but it was eventually confirmed that full points had been awarded, sealing the 25-year-old's triumph with four races of the season remaining.
The Dutchman would have been denied the title if Leclerc had come second, but the Ferrari driver's final-lap error saw him given a five-second penalty - for leaving the track and gaining an advantage - that demoted him to third behind the other Red Bull of Perez.
The race had earlier threatened to be overshadowed by controversy, as an initial attempt to start in heavy rain resulted in chaos, with Carlos Sainz crashing into a barrier, before a recovery tractor came on track with the cars still on the circuit.
The race was red-flagged and a two-hour plus delay ensued as rain continued to fall, with the chances of a resumption appearing bleak at several points.
However, to the delight of the Japanese fans who have waited three years for F1 to return to Suzuka, the skies cleared and the race resumed with a rolling start behind the Safety Car, with about 45 minutes left on the three-hour clock that had began ticking with the initial start
The drying track saw the field switch from full wet tyres to intermediate, but Verstappen was comfortable throughout as he pulled clear to win by 27 seconds.
Esteban Ocon produced a brilliant defensive display to hold off Lewis Hamilton for fourth, while Sebastian Vettel and Nicholas Latifi benefitted from being the first cars to pit at the restart, finishing sixth and ninth respectively.
Japanese GP Final Result, Top 10
1) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
3) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
4) Esteban Ocon, Alpine
5) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
6) Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin
7) Fernando Alonso, Alpine
8) George Russell, Mercedes
9) Nicholas Latifi, Williams
10) Lando Norris, McLaren
Verstappen: It's a crazy feeling
Verstappen's 12th victory in 18 races this season, and his sixth in the last seven rounds, took him an unassailable 113 points clear in the world championship.
After coming through the most intense of battles with Hamilton last year, Verstappen has been in a league of his own in 2022.
While Red Bull have provided Verstappen with a supremely fast car, capable of adapting to the sport's variety of circuits, the Dutchman has driven near faultlessly.
Sunday's race at Suzuka was just the fourth time this season Verstappen has won from pole, with his improved race-craft enabling him to win from further back on nine occasions.
While for a second year in a row Verstappen's crowning moment came amid great confusion, unlike in 2021 there was no question as to whether the right driver and team had triumphed.
"It's a crazy feeling of course because I didn't expect it when I crossed the line," Verstappen told Sky Sports F1.
"Of course, you could see it happening but it's incredible at the end of the day that we did win it here."
'Unacceptable' tractor controversy follows chaotic start
For a long time it looked as though Verstappen's wait to seal the title would continue, after a chaotic start to the race looked as though it may be the only on-track action of the day.
With rain falling, the race directors opted to go ahead with a standing start, at which Verstappen only just held off Leclerc into the first corner after a poor getaway.
There was immediately heavy spray severely reducing visibility, causing several incidents in the opening stages.
Sebastian Vettel went off track after making contact with Fernando Alonso, Alex Albon sustained damage that resulted in his retirement, but most notably, Carlos Sainz aquaplaned into a barrier before bouncing back onto the track.
The Ferrari was left stricken, and it was a minor miracle that the field managed to avoid him as they followed through before the Safety Car was sent out.
With conditions worsening as the rain got heavier, and with Sainz's car remaining in a dangerous position, a red flag followed, bringing the cars back into the pits.
However, replays would then emerge showing that both a recovery vehicle and marshals had been allowed on track while cars were still out there.
The incident immediately evoked memories of Japan's 2014 race, when driver Jules Bianchi died after a collision with a recovery vehicle.
Pierre Gasly, who was trailing the field following his pit-lane start and had not yet caught up with the train behind the Safety Car, reacted furiously at the presence of the recovery vehicle on the track as he narrowly avoided it.
"What is this tractor on track?" Gasly said on team radio. "I passed next to it. This is unacceptable. Remember what happened. Can't believe this! We don't want to see ever, a crane on the track."
There were double waved yellows and shortly after a red flag when Gasly passed the vehicle.
The FIA said Gasly was at fault for driving too fast in the conditions, and the Frenchman was given a 20-second penalty after the race which demoted him to 18th - last of those who saw the chequered flag.
"The Safety Car had been deployed and the race neutralised," F1's governing body said in a statement. "Car 10, which had collected damage and pitted behind the Safety Car, was driving at high speed to catch up to the field.
"As conditions were deteriorating, the Red Flag was shown before Car 10 passed the location of the incident where it had been damaged the previous lap."
However, the majority of drivers were united in anger with Gasly, with the likes of McLaren's Lando Norris and Perez taking to Twitter during the red flag period to express their grievances.