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Max wins race and world title on wet Suzuka: 'Very proud to do it here'

Published on 09 October 2022 by Mike Motilall

Max Verstappen has won the Japanese Grand Prix and his second world title. The race on a wet Suzuka had a chaotic start and a chaotic finish as well. Ultimately, Max crossed the finish line with an overwhelming 26-second lead on Leclerc. The Monegasque was even handed out a 5-second time penalty just after the end of the race which meant that Sergio Pérez took the second spot over from him. After some confusion regarding how the points should be counted, Max was informed, during a post-race interview, that he not only had won the Japanese Grand Prix but also his second world title.  

Max, who was not aware that, after the race, he had once more become world champion, was actually more than happy that there even was a race: “Leaving here without a race would have been terrible. It was raining quite heavily and it was really tough for us to drive. Luckily we got quite a good amount of laps in. The car was flying, also on the intermediates. I am very pleased to win here but also very happy to see all the fans who stuck around in the rain.”

Several minutes later it was finally announced: Max Verstappen is world champion. The FIA handed out full points despite the fact that only forty minutes of actual racing had been held. “Crazy, something I could never imagine happening. From last year already, we have been fighting till the end and then having such a good car this year. I’m so thankful to everyone who contributed to this success. The whole team that is here but also back in the factory. They are constantly working flat out. Never missing any motivation to try and make the car faster. The work we have done together with Honda all the way through also. Every year constantly improving. To win now twice is very emotional, especially here with everyone watching. It gives you a little more pressure, but it’s good pressure, positive pressure. So I am very proud we could do it here.”

On the question whether Max can compare his second title to his first one, he replies: “The first one is always a little emotional, but the second one is probably even more beautiful. The way we won and the season we have had. But also the wins and the great races, the team work and the one-two’s as well.” 

Max’ next focus is the constructors’ championship: “We are also leading the constructors, so we really want to focus on that and secure it as well. It’s been a pretty special year and it’s something you really have to remind yourself of. Because these kind of years don’t happen that often.”

For the first time since 2019, the Formula 1-circus has landed again in Japan, after being absent for two years due to Covid. The previous Grand Prix didn’t go as planned for Max Verstappen: due to a severe impact with Leclerc on the opening lap, he was forced to abort his race later on. Team mate Pérez also fell short in the last race: the Mexican, then driving for Racing Point, came in ninth after having made contact with Gasly.

The entire field takes off on the intermediates on a wet Suzuka. Max Verstappen starts the race in Japan from pole. The race has a chaotic start because of poor visibility due to the spray. Max gets poorly off the line compared to Leclerc, who looked like he was about to overtake the Dutchman. Still, Max manages to retain his lead in Turn three. Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso come into contact with each other, causing the German to spin out. Sainz slides off track due to aquaplaning and crashes out, this causes Pierre Gasly to hit a bill board and damage his front wing. Alexander Albon parks his Williams track side due to a technical issue and Zhou Guanyu spins out as he exits the hairpin.

The rain intensifies and due to all the commotion and activities on track, the FIA decides to red flag the race. All the drivers return back to the pits. By now, it has started to rain even harder. This causes little streams of water to be formed in the pitlane and on track. Many Formula 1-fans have flashbacks of the rained out Spa 2021 race, which ended behind the safety car after three laps.

Fifty minutes after the start, a re-start would initially take place behind the safety car, but two minutes before time, this is postponed due to heavy rainfall. Meanwhile a discussion has flared up about a tractor being on track while the drivers were still running behind the safety car. Many drivers were very opiniated about this. In 2014, Jules Bianchi hit a tractor in comparable conditions on a soaking wet Suzuka, causing him to lose his life a few months later. Gasly, who was a personal friend of Bianchi’s, was furious on the radio. After the race he was asked to report to the Stewards for having driven too fast past the tractor.

At 9:15 local Dutch time, all clear is given. The eighteen remaining drivers do a rolling start behind the safety car. The understanding is that when between 25 and 50 percent of the race has been driven, 13 points will be awarded to the winner. Max needs to extend his lead on Leclerc by eight points and six on Pérez. The cars are all on wet condition tyres behind the safety car and relay mixed messages about the conditions. Many drivers report on the radio  that it’s getting better, yet others relay that the visibility is still poor.

After a long wait, racing finally gets back underway: with still forty minutes left on the clock the safety car heads back in and we have a rolling re-start. Verstappen has a clean getaway and retains his lead. Vettel and Nicholas Latifi immediately head back in to strap on the intermediates on their rides. The green walled tyre appears to be considerably faster; this triggers almost the entire field, including Verstappen, to head back in. Only Zhou, Mick Schumacher, Daniel Ricciardo and Alonso opt to initially stay out on the full wets. Verstappen rejoins in fourth on track. Ricciardo and Alonso eventually still head back to the pits, which enables Max to take back the lead after he had overtaken Schumacher. With still half an hour remaining, the top five consists of: Verstappen, Leclerc, Pérez, Ocon and Hamilton.

Fifteen minutes before the end, Max has by now extended his lead by well over 13 seconds. Many drivers are suffering from tyre degradation and they all come in for a fresh set of rubber. Hamilton and Ocon are up in arms with each other and keep fighting lap after lap for fourth. Meanwhile, Peréz is on Leclerc’s tail. It is very close, but Hamilton as well as Pérez both fail to move up a spot.

With a 26-second lead on Leclerc, Max crosses the finish line. Leclerc is handed a 5-second time penalty for ‘leaving the track and gaining and advantage’. For a moment it seems that Max doesn’t have enough points to be crowned world champion. However, the FIA reports that full points will be awarded for the race. The 75%-rule is only applied when the race has been stopped and is not able to be resumed again. As the race has been resumed and completed before the three hour-mark, full points have been given.

Results Grand Prix Japan:

1Max VerstappenVERRed Bull Racing RBPT283:01:44.00425
2Sergio PerezPERRed Bull Racing RBPT28+27.066s18
3Charles LeclercLECFerrari28+31.763s15
4Esteban OconOCOAlpine Renault28+39.685s12
5Lewis HamiltonHAMMercedes28+40.326s10
6Sebastian VettelVETAston Martin Mercedes28+46.358s8
7Fernando AlonsoALOAlpine Renault28+46.369s6
8George RussellRUSMercedes28+47.661s4
9Nicholas LatifiLATWilliams Mercedes28+70.143s2
10Lando NorrisNORMcLaren Mercedes28+70.782s1
11Daniel RicciardoRICMcLaren Mercedes28+72.877s0
12Lance StrollSTRAston Martin Mercedes28+73.904s0
13Yuki TsunodaTSUAlphaTauri RBPT28+75.599s0
14Kevin MagnussenMAGHaas Ferrari28+86.016s0
15Valtteri BottasBOTAlfa Romeo Ferrari28+86.496s0
16Zhou GuanyuZHOAlfa Romeo Ferrari28+87.043s0
17Pierre GaslyGASAlphaTauri RBPT28+88.091s0
18Mick SchumacherMSCHaas Ferrari28+92.523s0
0Carlos SainzSAIFerrari0DNF0
0Alexander AlbonALBWilliams Mercedes0DNF0