Max Verstappen clinched a second title in extraordinary circumstances after dominating a Japanese Grand Prix truncated by heavy rain.
Verstappen led Sergio Perez in a Red Bull one-two finish after Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who crossed the line in second, was penalized for cutting the track and taking the lead on the final lap.
There was post-race confusion over whether Verstappen had done enough to tie the championship, as it was not immediately clear whether full points would be awarded for a race that ran just over half the distance.
But the governing body FIA said the points reduction only applied if a suspended race could not be resumed.
The awarding of full points or three-quarter points – as all teams expected – was the difference between Verstappen leaving Japan as a two-time world champion or having to go to the next race in the United States ahead. win a point on Leclerc. and Perez to seal it.
Even Verstappen asked: “Are you sure?” when he was told he was champion, reflecting the historical precedent that reduced points are awarded in such circumstances.
But it appears that protocol was inadvertently omitted from the rules when they were rewritten last winter following the controversial Belgian Grand Prix, when a result was declared despite no race taking place. .
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said it was “a mistake” and he was “certain” the rules would be revised over the winter.
There can be no question marks over the validity of Verstappen’s championship though, after he took his 12th win of the season the same way he took control of the championship, being a class apart from all the others in his Red Bull. auto.
“It’s crazy, very mixed emotions,” said Verstappen, who was briefed on Leclerc’s penalty and title win during podium interviews conducted by former F1 driver Johnny Herbert.
“Winning the championship, what a year we’ve had. It’s incredible !
“I’m so grateful to everyone who contributed to the success, the whole team worked hard. Next to that, the work we have done with Honda every year, constantly improving, becomes very moving, especially here. I’m very proud we could do it here.
“The first is more emotional but the second is more beautiful. We run the builders, so we want to focus on that, to secure that.”
The race was marred by controversy over officials deploying a recovery vehicle to the track while the cars were still rolling after a crash on the first lap.
Drivers and team leaders have united in calling the decision of the race direction “unacceptable”, eight years after Jules Bianchi lost his life after hitting a tractor on the track.
The race was stopped soon after, resulting in a two-hour delay while officials waited for the persistent rain to subside enough for the race to resume.
When it finally did, Verstappen and Leclerc initially pulled away from the rest of the field, but as the laps progressed, Ferrari’s tire problems surfaced.
Leclerc backed away from Verstappen and Perez started to roll up the Ferrari. Leclerc held him off for several laps and seemed to have done enough, only to jam at the final chicane on the final lap and cut the corner.
Leclerc held Perez on the line, but was deemed to have gained an advantage coming off the track and was dropped behind.
The three points lost by Leclerc was enough to secure the title for Verstappen once the points situation was clarified.
“From the fifth lap it was all downhill,” said Leclerc. “I really struggled with the tires but after three four laps we destroyed them.
“Congratulations to Max on his second championship. Max’s title this year was only a matter of time. We expected him to win the title. Now we just use the last races to become a better team .”
Behind the top three, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon held off Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes for the entire race, with Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel doing the same with Fernando Alonso’s Alpine.
Alonso pitted for fresh tires with just 15 minutes of race time remaining and fell to ninth, recovering enough ground to finish the race right on Vettel’s tail, but unable to pass.
Mercedes’ George Russell moved from 13th to eighth, after being delayed being piled behind Hamilton in the pits when the field switched from rain to intermediate tyres, and the final points went to Williams’ Nicholas Latifi and McLaren’s Lando Norris.
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