GULF WEEKLY: Red Bull’s Max Verstappen wrapped up a second successive Formula One title on Sunday with victory in a rain-shortened Japanese Grand Prix after his closest rival Charles Leclerc was hit with a post-race penalty
Dutchman Verstappen had crossed the line ahead of the Ferrari driver who, defending against the other Red Bull of Sergio Perez, took the chequered flag a distant second.
But the Monegasque had five seconds added to his race time for cutting across the final chicane on the last lap which dropped him down to third.
“It’s a crazy feeling of course as I didn’t expect it when I crossed the line,” said Verstappen amid confusion over whether reduced points under new rules introduced this year would apply with the race running to just over its halfway mark.
“Was it going to be half points, I didn’t know how many points I was going to get,” he added.
The sport’s governing FIA clarified that the reduced points rule only applies to races that are suspended and cannot be resumed.
Sunday’s race was halted after two laps due to heavy rain but it resumed a little over two hours later, with drivers completing 28 of the scheduled 53 laps and full points awarded.
Verstappen as a result leaves Japan with a 113-point margin over Perez, who moved into second in the overall standings. He needed at least 112-point gap to his closest challenger to be crowned champion on Sunday.
Verstappen’s win in Japan was his 12th from 18 races. With four races left, the Dutchman is on course to beat the record for most wins in a season which, shared by Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel, stands at 13.
Four races remain on the season, including the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, on October 23. Only Schumacher (2001, 2004) and Vettel (2011) have won a championship with four races remaining.
“Max has just been incredible,” said Leclerc, the early title favourite who held a 46-point lead over Verstappen after the opening three races.
“It’s a title fully deserved.
“We will try to push over the last four races to improve as a team and hopefully put more of a challenge next year.”
Verstappen started Sunday’s race from pole.
He was beaten off the line by Leclerc in the wet but went wheel-to-wheel with the Ferrari, spray streaming behind them, over the first two corners and seized back the initiative.
Incidents involving several cars brought out the safety car before the opening lap could be completed, while a recovery vehicle deployed on the track caused alarm as Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri sped past.
The conditions forced a halt to the race on the second lap and, after the two-hour delay, it resumed with a rolling start.
Behind the top three, Esteban Ocon finished an impressive fourth for Alpine, fending off seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes in fifth.
Sebastian Vettel, on an emotional Suzuka swansong, took sixth, crossing the line almost side-by-side with Alpine’s Fernando Alonso.
The double-points finish for the French manufacturer moved them back up into fourth ahead of McLaren in the constructors’ standings.
George Russell was eighth for Mercedes, ahead of Williams racer Nicholas Latifi, who scored his first points finish of the season with ninth.
Lando Norris rounded out the top 10.
AlphaTauri’s Gasly was handed a 20-second post-race time penalty for speeding under red flags. He was classified last of the finishers.
China’s Guanyu Zhou took the fastest lap but wasn’t awarded the point on offer as he finished 16th.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was the major casualty of the opening-lap chaos, the Spaniard sliding across the track and slamming into the barriers.