Max Verstappen claimed the top honours at the rain-hit Suzuka International Racing Course as the Red Bull driver sealed the 2022 Formula 1 Championship. In what was a rain-hit Japanese Grand Prix, the 25-year-old Dutchman toppled teammate Sergio Perez and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to retain his title.
As the lights went out at Suzuka, Leclerc vroomed past Verstappen’s RB18, however, the reigning champion was quick to react and regained his lead at the first corner itself. Moments later, Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz Jr, who started P3 on the grid, saw his Ferrari spinning on the wet track and crashed into the barriers, forcing a safety car.
With the safety car out, the race was red-flagged during Lap 3 as the rain intensified resulting in little to no visibility on the track. Meanwhile, Williams’ Alex Albon was forced to retire with a mechanical failure in his FW44.
It was high drama at Suzuka as the race saw Sainz and Albon suffer DNF while Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel and Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu took a spin on the track. Further, AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly was seen carrying a piece of advertising board on his front wing – all before the race was red-flagged just after two laps in what was F1’s return to Japan after a two-year Covid-impacted absence.
Well, the red flag definitely put the race on a halt but the chaos was far from over. Or should I say, the worst was yet to come. With the splashy, water-logged racing circuit taking the drivers’ visibility on a toll, a major disaster was averted as Pierre Gasly nearly crashed into a recovery tractor, which was deployed on the racing line in terrible visibility.
“I could have killed myself. Why is there a tractor out there?”, shouted a furious Gasly as he returned to the pitlane. FIA faced a barrage of criticism from fans, drivers and manufacturers alike as the incident triggered the memories of a horrific crash at Suzuka in 2014 that claimed the life of Jules Bianchi.
Claiming the 25 points at the 28-lap Grand Prix of Japan wasn’t enough to ensure Verstappen the 2022 Championship. As per the on-track standings, the Red Bull driver was 1-point short to claim the title, which meant he had the chance to become the World Champion in the USA.
However, just like in 2021, more last-lap drama was required for Verstappen to claim the title as Leclerc, who saw the chequered flag at P2, was handed a 5-second penalty for cutting the chicane in the last lap, which meant Perez and Leclerc swapped places as Leclerc dropped to P3 on podium and Verstappen had enough points difference to take the title home.
FIA, in a statement explained why it did not hand fewer points despite the race being reduced to 28 laps. It said, “The rules regarding reduced points allocation (as described in Article 6.5) only apply in the event of race suspension that cannot be resumed, and therefore the full points are awarded and Max Verstappen is WDC.”
This ensured that Verstappen had sealed the drivers’ championship with a dominant season, emerging victorious in 12 rounds of the 18 held so far.
In an exciting battle, Esteban Ocon got the better of seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton, who was ahead of Sebastian Vettel. Alpine’s Fernando Alonso finished in seventh, ahead of Mercedes rookie Geroge Russell. Nicholas Latifi finished in ninth as McLaren’s Lando Norris held off teammate Daniel Ricciardo to grab the last available points.
With four rounds to go in the 2022 campaign, Max Verstappen now has the chance to register his name into the history books as he can further the record of most wins in a season, which is currently held by Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel with 13 wins each.