Max Verstappen retains F1 title after dominating rain-hit Japanese Grand Prix

Red Bull driver dominates at Suzuka to retain world championship

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Max Verstappen became a double Formula One world champion in unusual circumstances on Sunday after dominating a rain-affected Japanese Grand Prix.

There were only 28 laps completed in Suzuka due to bad weather, but full points were still awarded as the race was resumed after a red flag had caused a delay of over two hours.

Red Bull's Verstappen took the chequered flag following a fine display after the restart and was crowned champion as teammate Sergio Perez was promoted to second after Ferrari's Charles Leclerc was penalised for gaining an advantage having run off the track at the final corner.

Confusion hit the paddock as it was unclear if Verstappen had been awarded half-points due to the truncated nature of the race – before it was confirmed full points were given.

"What can I say? Incredible! Very special to do it here," Verstappen, 25, said. "In front of the Honda people and the Japanese fans.

"I'm just very happy we got to race in the end," he added. "It was raining heavily, luckily we got quite a few laps in. I'm very pleased to win here. But also happy to see the fans."

Verstappen led from the front to claim a dominant victory, Perez completing a Red Bull one-two after Leclerc was handed a five-second penalty having run wide at the final corner and gaining an advantage.

Even Red Bull’s social media accounts delayed announcing their man as double world-champion as his title victory – much like in Abu Dhabi last year – was anything but clear.

The Dutchman now has back-to-back championships in a season he has dominated, becoming only the third driver after Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel to clinch the title with four races to spare.

"It's crazy, very mixed emotions," Verstappen said. "Winning the championship, what a year we've had. It's incredible!

"I'm so thankful to everyone who's been contributing to the success, the whole team has been working flat out. Beside that, the work we did with Honda every year, constantly improving, gets very emotional especially here. I'm very proud we could do it here.

Pierre Gasly's car hits some boarding prior to the near miss with a recovery vehicle. Reuters

"The first is more emotional but the second is more beautiful. We're leading the constructors so we want to focus on that, to secure that."

Esteban Ocon finished fourth for Alpine with former world champions Lewis Hamilton fifth, Sebastian Vettel sixth and Fernando Alonso seventh.

George Russell was eighth for Mercedes with Nicholas Latifi ninth and Lando Norris rounding out the top 10.

Even though the title was decided, the race will be overshadowed by a near miss between Pierre Gasly and a recovery tractor, which left the sport with more questions to answer over the safety of their drivers.

With the race starting under heavy rain, Gasly had collected a piece of advertising barrier and pitted at the end of lap one as a safety car was deployed to allow Carlos Sainz’s stricken Ferrari to be cleared away following a crash.

The race was then delayed as conditions worsened, but as Gasly attempted to catch the other drivers, he passed a recovery vehicle that had been sent out without the knowledge of the drivers.

The Alpha Tauri driver offered some strong words after the race, referencing the death of Jules Bianchi, the French driver who died at the Japanese Grand Prix in 2014 after losing control of his car in very wet conditions and colliding with a recovery vehicle.

"We lost Jules already. We all lost an amazing guy, eight years ago, at the same track, in the same conditions with the crane," Gasly told Sky Sports. "How can there be a crane, not even in the gravel, on the racetrack, while we are still on the track? I don't understand.

"I got scared. If I had lost the car in a similar way to Carlos ... it doesn't matter the speed, I would've just died. Simple as that.

"It is disrespectful to Jules, it's disrespectful to his family and to all of us. We are risking our lives out there. We are doing the best job in the world but what we are asking is to at least keep us safe.

"It's already dangerous enough and today I just feel it was unnecessary. We could've waited one more minute to get back in the pit lane and then put the tractors on track.

"I'm just extremely grateful that I am here and tonight I am going to call my family."

Updated: October 09, 2022, 11:11 AM
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