Max Verstappen won his second Formula 1 World Driver’s Championship with a dominant wet weather victory at the end of a rain-disrupted, time-limited Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.
Starting from pole in heavy rain, the Dutchman held his lead at the start but the race was quickly red-flagged following a number of incidents after the start and with the weather worsening a long delay followed. The grand prix eventually resumed with a rolling start behind the Safety car, and then it left the track, Verstappen simply powered away from second-placed Leclerc and the rest of the field. When he took the chequered flag the Dutchman had carved out a remarkable 27-second lead in just 28 laps to take his 12th win of the season.
However, but with Leclerc second it looked like Versdtappen would have to wait until Austin to seal his second crown. However, in a furious battle with Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez in the closing stages the Ferrari driver cut the final chicane and as the drivers were conducting post-race interviews he was handed a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage and dropped to third. Pérez took second and Verstappen was champion for the second time.
“It's crazy,” said Max afterwards. “I mean, very mixed emotions by first of all winning the race, but you know, looking back, now, of course, winning the championship… What a year we've had so far, it's been incredible. And something I could have never imagined happening after last year , [when we were] fighting until the end, and having such a good car again this year. So, I'm so thankful to everyone who has been contributing to the success, of course, the whole team who is here, but also back at the factory who is constantly working flat out… They're never missing any motivation to try and make the car faster. And besides that the work we've done together with Honda, all the way through, every year just constantly improving and to win twice with them, it's very emotional, especially also here, with everyone watching. It gives you a little bit more pressure, but it's good pressure, it's positive pressure. And so that's why I'm very proud, you know, that we could do it here.”
At the start, polesitter Verstappen made a fractionally slower start than front-row rival Leclerc and as the pair headed towards Turn 1, the Ferrari driver pulled ahead. Verstappen kept the power down, however, and clung on around the outside to keep the lead.
Behind them Pérez, starting fourth, got ahead of P3 starter Carlos Sainz and then the incidents began to unfold. Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel spun in Turn 1 after tapping Alpine’s Fernando Alonso. Sainz, trying to chase after Pérez aquaplaned off and slid into the barriers. The impact flung a section of hoarding back onto the track and was hit by Pierre Gasly, with the result that the AlphaTauri driver was left to drive back to the pits with the fencing stuck to the nose of his car. Meanwhile, Williams’ Alex Albon suffered a hydraulic failure and had to stop,. while Zhou Guanyu spun as he battled for traction in the worsening conditions.
The Race Director took the sensible decision to red flag the race. Max led the field back into the pit lane and, with the rain gaining in intensity, the waiting game began.
In the end the race began after a two-hour delay. A rolling start was decreed and when Verstappen led the field out behind the Safety Car all were on the full wet tyres mandated by the race officials.
The Safety Car entered the pit lane at the end of lap four and Verstappen controlled the restart well to hold his lead ahead of Leclerc and Pérez.
Wit conditions improving, the bulk of the field, including the leaders pitted for intermediate tyres, and Verstappen soon rose back to the race lead ahead of Leclerc,. Pérez, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.
With 20 minutes left on the clock, Leclerc began to struggle with his front tyres and Pérez began to close in on the Ferrari driver and soon the Mexican was just 3.9s behind his rival. On lap 23 the gap was down to a second and Leclerc, now 17 seconds behind the imperious Verstappen, was suddenly on the defensive. Pérez got as close as 0.17s behind but despite repeated assaults, Leclerc managed to keep the Red Bull at bay, until the final chicane. With just a couple of corners remaining, Pérez launched a final attack and this time Leclerc, struggling for grip, cut the chicane. The stewards put the incident under investigation.
Ahead, Max cruised onward to eventually win the race by 27. However, with Leclerc second it appeared, however, that Verstappen would have to wait until the US Grand Prix to secure his second crown.
But then as the drivers took part in their post-race interviews in parc fermé, the stewards quickly handed down their decision: Leclerc had left the track and gained an advantage and a five second penalty was applied. Checo jumped to P2 and Max became world champion for the second time.
Behind the top three Ocon took fourth place fort Alpine ahead of Hamilton. Sebastian Vettel recovered from a lap one spin to take a well-deserved sixth place ahead of the second Alpine of Fernando Alonso, while George Russell was eighth ahead of Williams’ Nicholas Latifi. The final point on offer went to McLaren’s Lando Norris.
2022 FIA Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix – Race
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 28 3:01'44.004
2 Sergio Pérez Red Bull 28 3:02'11.070 27.066
3 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 28 3:02'15.767 31.763
4 Esteban Ocon Alpine/Renault 28 3:02'23.689 39.685
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 28 3:02'24.330 40.326
6 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin/Mercedes 28 3:02'30.362 46.358
7 Fernando Alonso Alpine/Renault 28 3:02'30.373 46.369
8 George Russell Mercedes 28 3:02'31.665 47.661
9 Nicholas Latifi Williams/Mercedes 28 3:02'54.147 1'10.143
10 Lando Norris McLaren/Mercedes 28 3:02'54.786 1'10.782
11 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren/Mercedes 28 3:02'56.881 1'12.877
12 Lance Stroll Aston Martin/Mercedes 28 3:02'57.908 1'13.904
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri/Red Bull 28 3:02'59.603 1'15.599
14 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari 28 3:03'10.020 1'26.016
15 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 28 3:03'10.500 1'26.496
16 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 28 3:03'11.047 1'27.043
17 Mick Schumacher Haas/Ferrari 28 3:03'16.527 1'32.523
18 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri/Red Bull 28 3:03'32.095 1'48.091
Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 0 – Accident
Alexander Albon Williams/Mercedes 0 - Accident