Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen hopped out of his car just thinking he had won a rain-shortened Japanese Grand Prix.
Nope. He had won a little more.
It wasn’t until the post-race interviews were happening that Verstappen was told that he had just clinched his second-straight championship.
It was one of the more bizarre — though thankfully not controversial — championship moments in F1 history.
The shortened race was due to torrential rains that turned the race from a 53-lap race into one against the clock. Verstappen completed 28 laps, which should’ve meant that only partial points would be awarded.
For some reason, F1 likes to blow off their own rules. They decided — thanks to the way the regulations are worded — that the race-to-the-clock had been completed and constituted a complete race. As such, full points were awarded.
Yeah, doesn’t make much sense to me either.
But there you have it. Max Verstappen is your 2022 Formula 1 World Champion.
Meanwhile, Red Bull can clinch the constructors’ title next time out at the United States Grand Prix.
Verstappen In Control From Lights To Flag
There was only one moment where it looked like Max Verstappen may not win the race. It happened going into turn 1 on the opening lap. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc got a great start that put him wheel-to-wheel with the Dutchman. But Max outbroke the Ferrari and maintained the lead,
From that point on Max was dominant. Even after a rain-caused red flag (more on that in a second) Verstappen built a monstrous 27-second lead in just 28 laps. Some of which were under yellow and at one point he pitted for full-wet tires to intermediates, yielding the lead momentarily in the process.
It was a masterclass and was another demonstration of why everyone knew it was a matter of “when” not “if” Max would take his second championship. He was consistently the best driver from weekend to weekend, but it also helped that he had an incredible car.
The championship-winning RB18 is the winningest car ever designed by the legendary Adrian Newey. Given his pedigree, that’s incredible. He has designed cases that have won a combined 1w2 drivers championships and 11 constructor championships.
Opening Lap Mess
Before the race turned into the Max Verstappen Show, the main talking point of the race was a far less positive one.
F1’s two-race swing through East Asia was a rainy one. This year’s Japanese Grand Prix featured classic Suzuka crappy weather.
So, all the cars on the grid lined up on intermediate tires to start the race. However, the conditions were bad enough that they probably should’ve been on wets. What followed was crash fest with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Williams’Alex Albon retiring. Meanwhile, Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel and Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Gunayu had spings but stayed in the race.
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly — who earlier in the weekend announced plans to move to Alpine next year — wound up with a chunk of advertising stuck to his car, and ducked into the pits to have it removed. He got back on track, but on his way around the circuit the race was red-flagged
What followed was a stomach-in-throat moment in which Gasly quickly came up on a large tractor that was trying to recover Carlos Sainz’s wrecked Ferrari.
It was a scary moment, given that the last fatality in F1 stemmed from a 2014 incident involving a recovery vehicle at Suzuka and the death of Marussia driver Jules Bianchi.
Back in the pits, Gasly was irate, but replays showed that he may have been driving faster than he should’ve given the red flag conditions.
Regardless of who was at fault, it was a terrifying moment.
So What Is Left To Race For?
That’s a wonderful question, and I thank you for asking it.
While both championships are (essentially) locked up there are still some important things to play for. In the constructor standings, Mercedes could conceivably catch Ferrari for P2. That would require a lot of bounces to go their way, and a miserable final four races for the Scuderia, but it’s possible.
The battle for P4 is the one to watch, Alpine and McLaren have been neck and neck all season and Alpine currently has a 13-point lead thanks to a strong, double-point finish at Suzuka. Every place means more prize money, so every position a team can eke out is huge.
We also have some drivers who need to perform these last few races if they want to continue their Formula 1 careers. One of them is Daniel Ricciardo, although in Japan he was saying that he has come to terms with the reality of not being on the grid next year.
Mick Schumacher is another driver who needs some strong races to maintain his seat. There are only two seats left on the grid for next season: one at Haas and one at Williams. While any sat is highly desirable, of the two Haas is likely the preferable one.
Schumacher had a crash after the checkered flag this weekend during FP1. That hurt his chances in a big way. Plus, if Haas team principal Guenther Steiner wants to go a different direction, Schumacher’s only option is a longshot-chance at the Williams ride.
He’ll need to have the drives of his life to finish the season if he wants to keep his seat.
So, there’s still lots of F1 fun. The next race will be the United States Grand Prix at the great Circuit of the Americas outside of Austin Texas on October 23.
Follow on Twitter: @Matt_Reigle