Formula 1: Verstappen retains world title after Japan GP win, Leclerc penalty
- A chaotic start to Japanese Grand Prix with low visibility sees Carlos Sainz and Alex Albon spin out early
- Pierre Gasly summoned by the race stewards for ‘reaching speeds up to 250km/h when completing the lap under the red flag after passing the scene of the incident’
Max Verstappen won his first Formula One championship amid controversy last year and the second after confusion at the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday, but this time there was no argument about the outcome.
The 25-year-old Red Bull driver has enjoyed one of the most dominant seasons in the sport’s history with Suzuka the scene of his 12th win in 18 races and four rounds still remaining.
“Max has been truly, truly dominant. That’s our 14th victory (of 2022), a record for us (in a single season), and the way he has driven since the first race,” Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said.
“We came back from some difficulties in the first couple of races, but he and the team have just raised it to another level.”
The Dutch driver’s first title was marked by drama and acrimony as he fought a down-to-the wire, battle-of-the-generations duel with Mercedes’ seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton.
That ended in one of the sport’s greatest controversies, with a late change to the safety car procedures leading to a last lap overtake in Abu Dhabi.
“The first is more emotional but the second is more beautiful,” said Verstappen, who won the rain-hit race by a massive 27 seconds.
Buoyed by his 2021 title win over the sport’s most successful driver ever, Verstappen has shown metronomic consistency.
“Some of the drives have been just simply outstanding this year under enormous pressure,” Horner told reporters after the Singapore Grand Prix.
“He’s just constantly delivered.”
Adrian Newey, Red Bull’s technical head who has designed a string of title-winning cars for three teams in his decades in the sport, said Verstappen had been simply superb.
“In the traffic in Singapore he made a little mistake, but apart from that he’s made no mistakes and he’s always had the speed. He thoroughly deserves all the success he’s having this year,” the Briton told Sky Sports television.
Verstappen suffered two retirements from the first three races but has otherwise finished all but two rounds in the top three.
He has had an impressive car, with Red Bull nailing the radical rules introduced this year, and has benefited from reliability woes, strategic missteps, and errors derailing Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc’s title challenge.
The Dutch driver, whose experienced teammate Sergio Perez has won twice in 2022, also showed maturity and assurance in winning from 10th place on the starting grid in Hungary, 14th in Belgium and seventh in Italy.
There have been flashes of his old hotheadedness -such as in Singapore where insufficient fuel in his Red Bull prevented him from fighting for pole and left him furious, or in Spain where he raged over the radio about a malfunction.
But the boy who made his F1 debut at the age of 17, guided to greatness by the firm hand of his father and former racer Jos, has grown into an unstoppable force.
His dominance has been reminiscent of Britain’s Nigel Mansell and German greats Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel.
Verstappen can still break the record of most wins in a season, shared by Schumacher and Vettel at 13.
“I know that it’s been a really special season,” he said.
“I’m enjoying it a lot but I’ll probably enjoy more after the season, looking back at it.”