When Max Verstappen stepped out of his car after completing only 28 of 53 laps, he wasn’t World Champion.
He may have won the rain-shortened Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit, but precedent held that only half points would be awarded for a shortened race, and Charles Leclerc’s late block for second kept him from clinching the championship.
But all that was clarified later on the podium, when the FIA decided both to award full points for the race, based on a rule changed after the Spa race last year, and to penalize Leclerc’s aggressive block, moving him into third behind Sergio Perez. That was enough for Verstappen to clinch his second World Championship in a row.
Verstappen himself said it was “weird, confusing and quite funny,” saying he had “no clue what they were going to decide with the points.” But as for winning the title, he was euphoric.
“What can I say? Incredible, of course!” Verstappen exclaimed. “It’s very special also to do it here, in front of all the Honda people, all the Japanese fans.”
Mr. Two-Time World Champion 🧡🧡 pic.twitter.com/Iclw2fuud4
— Oracle Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) October 9, 2022
Red Bull’s head of driver development Helmut Marko said it was “unbelievable,” and added that “we only found out when the speaker said he was world champion.”
He said over the years Max has become a “much more relaxed, a much more mature driver. He is not the type who goes for records.”
Ferrari was less happy, though. Team principal Matteo Binotto said “I have little desire to comment. I think the choice of the FIA is ridiculous and unacceptable. There was no advantage gained by Charles.”
“Congratulations to Max for the victory and for the championship, he drove in an excellent way,” Matteo added diplomatically.
The race was red-flagged early after heavy rain led to a series of crashes, with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and William’s Alex Albon out of the race. The three-hour clock race meant that, after a lengthy delay, only about half the laps could be completed.
Estaban Ocon came home fourth ahead of Lewis Hamilton who rounded out the top five.
Hamilton said that “it was a sprint race. I think I did the best I could and I am happy that we got some points today. We were just so slow in a straight line. As soon as I pulled out they would just pull away.”
“Congrats to Max,” Hamilton added. “I think for us we know what the problems are with this car. I believe that we as a team have not gone from being world champions to not being able to build a good car. I have no doubts that we will have a better car next year”
The top ten was also shaken up, with Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, George Russell, Nicholas Latifi, and Lando Norris all scoring points.
“As drivers we always want to race. The Japanese fans have been amazing all weekend… so I’m glad we could give them that,” Norris said. “The race itself was a tricky one, but it was good to come away with a point.”
Congratulations to Max on winning a second World Championship,” Norris added.
Formula One returns for the US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas on October 23rd.
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