Verstappen crowned world champion with Japanese GP victory after late penalty for Leclerc
Max Verstappen claimed victory in the Japanese Grand Prix, and took the 2022 world title with it, after a dramatic late penalty for Charles Leclerc put the championship beyond doubt.
Verstappen won a restarted race amid persistent rain at Suzuka, with Leclerc initially looking set to finish second. But the Ferrari driver was penalised for cutting the chicane on the final lap as he defended from the other Red Bull of Sergio Perez.
The dramatic points swing means Verstappen heads to the United States Grand Prix, and the final four races of the season, with an unassailable lead over Perez and Leclerc – confirming him as champion.
The race originally got under way as planned at 1400 local time, with Verstappen defending from Leclerc after a close run to Turn 1, and only two laps being completed before the action was red-flagged amid intense spray and a series of incidents – which included Carlos Sainz crashing out.
A lengthy delay followed, with the overall three-hour race limit ticking down, and the two-hour window coming into force an hour after the initial start, as Race Control waited for a suitable gap in the weather to get the action going again.
FORMULA 1 HONDA JAPANESE GRAND PRIX 2022
|1 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing
|2 Sergio Perez PER Red Bull Racing
|3 Charles Leclerc LEC Ferrari
|4 Esteban Ocon OCO Alpine
|5 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes
With just under 50 minutes to run on the race clock, the Safety Car led the field out of the pit lane for a planned rolling start, which was soon carried out and released the pack of cars – all of them this time forced to run wets, rather than having the choice to use intermediates.
From there, Verstappen mastered the switch from wets to intermediates as the track surfaced gradually improved and edged away at the head of the field, eventually crossing the line more than 25 seconds clear.
Leclerc was on course to finish second, and to keep the title race alive, but he was penalised for cutting the final chicane on the final lap to hold off a charging Perez, with the points difference meaning Verstappen sealed the crown.
Esteban Ocon took a fine fourth for Alpine after some fierce defending against Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes, as Sebastian Vettel recovered from a clash with Fernando Alonso at the initial start to take P6 on his final Suzuka appearance.
Alonso bolted on another set of intermediates in the closing stages to come home in P7, ahead of George Russell, Nicholas Latifi – who, along with Vettel, made an early switch from wets to intermediates – and McLaren’s Lando Norris.
Daniel Ricciardo narrowly missed out on joining Norris in the points as he took P11, ahead of Lance Stroll (Aston Martin), home favourite Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) and Kevin Magnussen (Haas).
Alfa Romeo pair Valtteri Bottas were P15 and P16 respectively, with Pierre Gasly 17th after a dramatic encounter that saw him start from the pit lane and pick up damage from an advertising board.
That board was flicked onto the circuit after Sainz’s aforementioned accident, the Ferrari driver losing control of his car at the exit of the Turn 11 hairpin, which was followed by the Safety Car and a red flag being issued.
Alex Albon was the other retirement, having clashed with Kevin Magnussen amid the spray on the opening lap and pulled off the track due to a technical issue brought on by the contact.
AS IT HAPPENED
Following a wet Friday and dry Saturday, dark clouds loomed over Suzuka on Sunday morning, with showers arriving in the build up to the race and ensuring a sodden track for the start.
When the pit lane opened for the laps to the grid, drivers used a mixture of the wet and intermediate tyres to assess the conditions before settling on intermediates ahead of lights out – cars being sheltered under gazebos until then.
One car absent was Gasly’s AlphaTauri, which took up a spot at the end of the pit lane after taking on a different specification rear wing and a change of front wing ballast after his difficult run to P17 in qualifying.
When the action got under way, it was Leclerc who made the better start to get the nose of his Ferrari in front of Verstappen’s Red Bull on the run to the first corner, only for the Dutchman to swoop around the outside and keep his pole position advantage, while Perez got the jump on Sainz.
Drama ensued behind, as Vettel slipped and slid his way to Turn 1 before banging wheels with Alonso amid the spray and running off the track – a moment that sent the retiring Aston Martin driver from the edge of the top 10 to the back of the field.
Just a few corners later, Sainz also appeared to be caught out by aquaplaning as he dramatically crashed coming out of the Turn 11 hairpin, littering an advertising board on the circuit that was picked up by Gasly – damaging the Frenchman’s modified front wing.
With Zhou going for a spin, Albon retiring due to contact with Magnussen and visibility at a premium, Race Control elected to send out the Safety Car and then throw a red flag shortly afterwards – the 18 runners lining up in the pits with two of 53 planned laps completed.
At this stage, Verstappen, Leclerc and Perez held the top three positions, ahead of the squabbling Ocon, Hamilton, Alonso and Russell, with Ricciardo, Tsunoda and Schumacher occupying the final points-paying places.
Rain continued to fall during the break, with the race clock paused at one hour and 55 minutes remaining, but the overall three-hour window continuing to tick down – leaving drivers and their teams to study the weather radar.
Race Control initially communicated that the action would resume at 1450 local time in the form of a rolling start, adding that “there will be more than one lap behind the Safety Car” on wet tyres. However, at 1448 local time, this was suspended and the wait went on.
Shortly after 1500, an hour on from the original start, the race clock resumed to offer a definitive cut-off point for the day’s proceedings – whether the action would get under way again or not, as rain continued to fall.
As the delay wore on, the stewards summoned Gasly for an incident under the earlier red flag conditions, with the driver and a representative of his AlphaTauri team required to report to the panel and discuss the matter at 1800.
After several track assessments from Safety Car driver Bernd Maylander, it was announced that the race would resume at 1615, with the main question now being whether enough ‘green’ laps could be completed to award points and, if so, how many.
With just over 48 minutes left on the clock, Maylander led Verstappen and the rest of the field out of the pit lane, much to the delight of the fans in the grandstands who cheered them around.
Hamilton was quick to take to the radio to state that “the track’s good”, while Ocon reported that “visibility is better so far”, and Leclerc added that “it’s not too bad for now”.
Despite a follow-up message from Verstappen that suggested the rain was increasing, the Safety Car pulled into the pits with 40 minutes remaining and released the pack to go racing again.
Verstappen mastered the restart to keep Leclerc at bay, as Vettel and Latifi took the opportunity to pit for intermediate tyres – heading out of their pit boxes side-by-side in an incident that was looked at by the stewards.
While Verstappen and Leclerc pressed on up front, lapping significantly quicker than Perez and the cars behind, Norris and Bottas were the next to stop for intermediates, with Vettel also lighting up the timing screens.
A lap later, the leaders filed into the pits to swap wets for intermediates, with only Alonso, Ricciardo, Schumacher and Zhou staying out on the extremes – the Alfa Romeo sitting between Verstappen and Leclerc at this point.
With Schumacher up in the podium places, he was told by his engineer that Haas were “hoping for the Safety Car”, as Zhou also stuck with wets. Alonso and Ricciardo decided that enough was enough, though, and headed to the pits for intermediates.
After the stops, Verstappen led Leclerc by five seconds, with Schumacher in P3 from Perez, Zhou and Ocon. Hamilton held seventh, ahead of the recovering Vettel, Alonso and Latifi – the early switches to intermediates paying off.
Zhou proved that point as he pitted and rejoined at the back of the order, while Schumacher began to tumble down it as the only driver still on wets, lapping some 10 seconds off the pace.
Schumacher eventually bailed out and made the switch of tyres to rejoin behind Zhou, while Verstappen and Leclerc – just as they had done on wets – built a buffer over third-placed Perez as the intermediate stints developed.
Ocon was doing his best to keep Hamilton behind him with some smart defending, followed by Vettel, Alonso, Latifi, Russell and Norris – Russell completing impressive moves on Tsunoda and Norris to work his way back into the points, after Mercedes had double stacked their cars in the pits.
Several laps later, Russell made another move to take P8 from Latifi, with team mate Hamilton continuing to fill Ocon’s mirrors, but not quite managing to find a way past, despite several attempts.
While Verstappen controlled proceedings up front, Perez began to close on Leclerc in his Red Bull, as differing levels of degradation played out – Alonso, Stroll, Tsunoda, Zhou, Gasly all pitting for fresh sets of intermediates late on.
Verstappen saw out the final few laps to take victory and, just a few moments later, that would become the World Championship, with Leclerc picking up a five-second time penalty for cutting the final chicane as he defended from Perez.
With the pre-podium interviews already under way, Verstappen was told mid-conversation that he had won the title, adding to his 2021 crown, as Leclerc dropped to P3 behind Perez.
Ocon finished half a second clear of Hamilton for P4, with Vettel sixth and denying Alonso by just 0.011s – following the Spaniard’s aforementioned move to a second set of intermediates.
Russell’s sequence of moves were rewarded with P8, as Latifi and Norris completed the points. Ricciardo, Stroll and Tsunoda narrowly missed out in a train of cars that flashed past the pits.
Magnussen had a quiet run to 14th after his early contact with Albon, followed by Alfa Romeo team mates Bottas and Zhou. Gasly and Schumacher were the final finishers after Sainz and Albon dropped out.
“I’m just very happy that we got to race at the end. It was raining quite heavily and it was just really tough for us to drive. But luckily, we got quite an amount of laps in and the car was flying in the inter conditions as well. I’m very pleased to win here, but also very happy to see all the fans and that they stuck around,” said race winner and world champion Verstappen.
“[As for the title], what can I say? Incredible, of course! It’s very special also to do it here, in front of all the Honda people, all the Japanese fans.”
Austin hosts the next round of the World Championship, the United States Grand Prix, on October 21-23.