By James Broughton, October 9, 2022
Max Verstappen dominated the 2022 Japanese Grand Prix despite heavy rain at the start which saw the race red-flagged after just a few chaotic laps. The delay lasted for up to two hours as officials waited for the weather to abate. The race was halved, to be run over 26 laps, not 52 as per FIA regulations in order to account for delays. When the race restarted Max Verstappen flew off into the distance never to be challenged again such was the superiority of the Red Bull and its driver. Charles Leclerc, Verstappen’s only clear rival for the 2022 drivers championship, has diminished at this stage of the season to nothing more than a mathematical thorn in Verstappen’s foot.
Because the race was run half distance the regulations stipulate that only half points should be awarded. As Verstappen crossed the line to take the victor’s chequered flag Leclerc floundered in second with Sergio Perez biting at his heels. Under pressure at the last corner, Leclerc braked too late and cut across the chicane, Perez charged back but was bulked by a desperate Leclerc who secured second by the skin of his Ferrari.
This meant that after taking into account the revised points system for a half-duration race, Verstappen was just one point away from being crowned world champion. It also meant he would have to wait for one more race to do so. However, race stewards adjudged Leclerc had gained an advantage by cutting the chicane and duly handed the Ferrari driver a 5-second penalty. This meant Leclerc was a thorn no longer and Verstappen was crowned world champion.
The trouble was that the FIA decided not to follow their own rules and made an on-the-spot unilateral decision without hearing any representation or appeal from either Red Bull or Ferrari. The situation turned into a farce as Max Verstappen was seen in the post-race cool-down room completely oblivious that he was the world champion until he was notified. And of course, he and his team were as surprised as everyone else. But what else could they do but accept and celebrate?
The manner in which Verstappen secured his second world title soured an otherwise dominant and accomplished victory in Japan. The FIA seems to have found a loophole in its own rules for one race at least. Why? I can only think they took advantage of Leclerc’s last lap, last corner error for Japanese TV ratings. After all, Honda upped its branding for its home race on a circuit that it owns. All in all, it makes for good marketing.
One of the main reasons why Verstappen has 12 wins and counting to his name is because Red Bull designed and developed the best car on the 2022 grid. Another reason is Verstappen himself, no matter what car you drive in F1, back of the field, mid-field, or the leading pack, the driver still has to turn up and perform every weekend.
Verstappen makes few mistakes and he has driven beyond the capabilities of the car despite having the best car. And that relentless performance and mindset at every race weekend are why Verstappen won his second world championship. Ferrari started the season strongly and looked likely to dominate, Red Bull and Verstappen fought back and overturned a big points deficit.
Verstappen deserves his second title, but questions have to be asked about the confusion caused by the FIA for no reason anyone can understand.
2022 Japanese Grand Prix: Race Results
1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing
2 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +27.066
3 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +31.763
4 Esteban OCON Alpine +39.685
5 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +40.326
6 Sebastian VETTEL Aston Martin +46.358
7 Fernando ALONSO Alpine +46.369
8 George RUSSELL Mercedes +47.661
9 Nicholas LATIFI William s+70.143
10 Lando NORRIS McLaren +70.782
11 Daniel RICCIARDO McLaren +72.877
12 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +73.904
13 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +75.599
14 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +86.016
15 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +86.496
16 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +87.043
17 Pierre GASLY AlphaTauri +88.091
18 Mick SCHUMACHER Haas F1 Team +92.523
Alex Albon Williams car failure lap 1
Carlos Sainz Ferrari crash lap 1