Confusion was king at the Japanese Grand Prix. The epic championship race had everything that are deciding factors on the Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit nowadays… weather, track incidents, tyres, driver skill and ample doses of controversy.
Verstappen was on pole after qualifying a smidgeon of a hundredth of a second ahead of the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc with Charles’ team-mate Carlos Sainz lining up third on the starting grid.
Leclerc had a good start in the wet conditions and beetled after Verstappen who just managed to retain his lead around the first bend. But the exciting duel everyone was being treated to was impacted almost immediately by wet conditions that sent Sainz spinning out of control and which brought out the safety car.
There was controversy over officials deploying a recovery vehicle on to the track while cars were still running after the crash on the first lap. Both drivers and their team bosses were united in their opposition to the decision from race control calling it “unacceptable”, eight years after Jules Bianchi lost his life after crashing into a tractor on the track.
After a further downpour of rain and in the light of the danger the red flag was brought out. It would be over two hours before the race got back underway.
That left just 41 minutes on the race clock when they eventually restarted. Poor visibility, racing machines gliding through spray and pools of water …that was the scene after the rolling start which saw Verstappen and Leclerc leap into action again. But disappointingly this time the Ferrari’s earlier threatening burst didn’t repeat itself as tyre problems left the Monegasque ace later scratching his head with frustration. So Verstappen who was having a superb race despite the conditions was able to break away leaving Charles and the rest of the field in his wake.
Ferrari’s tyre problems continued to plague
Leclerc as he dropped back from Verstappen and Perez began to reel him in. Would Charles survive the challenge? The Monegasque with tyres deteriorating still managed to hold Perez off for several laps and looked as if he would make it to the checkered flag only to lock up at the final chicane on the last lap and cut the corner. But Leclerc putting up an impressive defense managed to keep Perez at bay to the line.
However, the race stewards would quickly deem that he had gained an advantage by going off track and Charles was demoted from second to third place with a five second penalty. That leaves Charles with one point to make up on Perez for second place overall in the World Championship.
Ferrari did not appeal the stewards’ decision, but indicated they were very surprised and very disappointed. Even though the podium places were established Verstappen, Perez, Leclerc, one, two, three in that order total confusion reigned as to what this meant for the Drivers Championship.
Confusion over the Drivers Championship
No-one thought, including Verstappen and the Red Bull team, that full points would be awarded for the Tokyo race that had been cut so short. Rather they expected three-quarters of the points at best would be awarded with a race that had been shortened to just 28 laps.
Verstappen, happy with the race win, thus resigned himself to being just short by a point and needing the next race in Austin Texas to try to wrap up the World Championship. But the governing body, the FIA, ruled that reduced points only applied if a suspended race could not be resumed.
The three points that Leclerc lost by being demoted to third was enough to secure the title for Verstappen once the points situation had been clarified.
Verstappen appeared stunned. He later admitted he had no idea he had taken his second Formula One world championship. Confusion reigned in the rain. The celebration had to wait until Verstappen finally was persuaded he had won the title. And now, with his second title under his belt he joins that distinct group of multiple title winners which include the great Michael Schumacher.
But did you know the Dutchman now has a chance of breaking Michael Schumacher’s record of 13 race wins in a single F1 season. Verstappen has twelve currently under his belt. There are four races to go beginning in Austin Texas in two weeks’ time. Will he tie Schumacher’s record there? … and then beat it before the season wraps up.
On discovering the final result after all the confusion Charles Leclerc was quick to congratulate Max Verstappen on winning the Drivers Championship. The Monegasque dream of seeing Charles challenge for the title of World Champion must now wait for 2023.