It’s him again. Verstappen wins the world championship early. It is a race for the history books – but not only because of what happened on the track. The new champion doesn’t know it himself at first.
The fans were already celebrating Max Verstappen as the new Formula 1 world champion after the chaotic race in Japan. But after the crazy turbulent final phase of a Grand Prix that lasted more than three hours and was interrupted for a long time, there was a feeling of helplessness and cluelessness in the twilight of Suzuka. “It’s not me,” said the 25-year-old defending champion from the Netherlands himself.
But then came the explanation: the International Automobile Federation awarded full points even though less than the prescribed 75 percent of the 53 laps had been completed, namely only 28. But this rule only applied if the race could not be resumed after an interruption, the rule-makers explained belatedly.
Verstappen: “It’s unbelievable”
“It’s very mixed feelings,” said a relatively subdued Verstappen, even later. He had only found out himself from the association: “It’s unbelievable, I wouldn’t have expected that, but they gave me the full points in the end. The race was already good, but the year was incredible.”
Verstappen would certainly have imagined a different World Championship cheer. His team celebrated, and then again they didn’t. He himself, contrary to driving in the spray of Japan, had also lost his perspective in the world championship battle. “Our strategy department said we were missing a point,” explained Red Bull’s motorsport boss Helmut Marko. That would have been the case if full points had not been awarded.
Second crazy world championship title
After Verstappen’s triumph in Abu Dhabi with the overtaking maneuver on the last lap of Abu Dhabi last year, he followed it up 301 days later with the second crazy world championship title. “To have won the world championship twice now with Red Bull is very emotional.”
Penalty for Leclerc’s decisive
It was also crucial that although Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc finished second, the Monegasque was penalized an extra five seconds after a driving error at the final chicane. He had obstructed Perez without permission. Perez thus officially finished second, making the world championship title possible.
Sebastian Vettel, who had been the last driver to become world champion in Suzuka in 2011 until Sunday, finished sixth in the Aston Martin. Mick Schumacher was 18th in the Haas.
“Out of this world”
When the red lights went out, Verstappen was in danger of losing his lead from the pole. But he kept clean, fair, and brave on the outside against Leclerc despite the wet track and moved back in front of the Monégasque. “Out of this world,” Marko commented on the maneuver.
Behind, things got turbulent: Vettel spun after being hit by Fernando Alonso in the Alpine. After ninth on the grid, the German dropped back to 16th position on his last start in Japan. Shortly afterward, Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari went off the track, Pierre Gasly’s Alpha Tauri was hit by a flying advertising board and had to pit.
Red flags, stop. But before everyone was standing, this happened: Gasly was back on track and about to join the field when a towing crane appeared to his left under the red flags. “What? What’s that tractor doing on the track?” he radioed to the pits in horror. “Remember what happened (here once). I can’t believe it,” he railed, and once at the command post, raged on, “That could have fucking killed me.”
The memory of the horrific images eight years ago is present in everyone’s mind in Formula 1. On 5 October 2014, Gasly’s good friend and Leclerc’s godfather Jules Bianchi crashed under a towing crane in the rain at Suzuka. He had suffered severe head injuries, and in the summer of 2015 Bianchi had died at the age of only 25.
The FIA pointed out to Gasly that the red flags had been shown beforehand and that Gasly had tried to catch up with the field at “high speed”. According to the statement, he reached up to 250 kilometers per hour on the lap and the incident was to be investigated.
“We risk our lives”
But the anger did not stop with Gasly. “We lost a life in this situation years ago. We risk our lives, especially in conditions like this. We want to race. But this … unacceptable,” wrote McLaren driver Lando Norris during the forced break.
Racing on one of the favorite tracks of many pilots was out of the question for a long time on Sunday. Forty-two minutes after the race was stopped, the race should have continued. Verstappen and his pursuers had already lined up in the pit lane. But then: the restart was postponed. Nothing unusual in Suzuka. Three years ago, Typhoon Hagibis passed over Japan and caused the complete cancellation of all activities on Saturday. On top of that, it gets dark quickly; the sun was supposed to set at 17:27.
More than two hours after the cancellation, the drivers then lined up behind the safety car. But there were still puddles in some areas on the legendary circuit in an amusement park. Then it started anyway, after three laps Bernd Mayländer drove the safety car into the pits.
Verstappen was in the lead, behind him Leclerc, behind him Perez. All three changed from rain tires to the so-called intermediates. Verstappen quickly built up a big lead, but his team didn’t want to send him out on the fastest lap with new tires. The people in charge, led by chief strategist Hanna Schmitz, could not have known that it would be enough.