After a hard-fought season, Max Verstappen has won the 2022 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship following his victory at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix. He’s now a two-time world champion, but much like last year, this championship was earned in a somewhat unusual fashion.
It all started with a lengthy delay caused by heavy rain. The drivers were able to start the race, but after multiple first-lap incidents and increasing rainfall, it was red-flagged. However, there is a maximum window of time in which a Grand Prix is allowed to be run, so by the time the race started up again, it was limited not by the number of laps, but by the clock. It was estimated that there was only enough time to award reduced points to the top 10 finishers, which was originally not enough for Verstappen to clinch the title regardless of where anyone else placed.
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The next piece of the puzzle came from a closing battle between Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Red Bull‘s Sergio Perez, who were running second and third respectively in both the race and the championship as a whole. On the very last lap, Leclerc locked up his wheels, ran straight through the final chicane, and re-entered the track still ahead of Perez. This was immediately flagged for investigation, and shortly after the checkered flag, Leclerc received a 5-second time penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage, which sent him back to third place behind Perez.
It was also found that full points could actually be awarded since the reduced-distance race was resumed from that initial lap and finished on the track, rather than ending under the delay. So with Leclerc’s penalty and full points now on the table, Verstappen ended up being anticlimactically crowned champion in the middle of Perez’s post-race interview.
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With that being said, we don’t want to detract from Verstappen’s achievements, because quite frankly he absolutely dominated this season. Yes, the actual title decision may have been a bit unorthodox, but the fact of the matter is that he was leading the championship by over 100 points, and just one more race with a similar finishing result would have crowned him champion anyway. In fact, the only way there was even a chance of Leclerc winning would be if he won all of the remaining races while Verstappen failed to score points in all of them, which is obviously highly unlikely.
Even just looking at this race, Verstappen finished with a 27-second lead despite the race only being 28 laps, meaning on average he was pulling away from the pack a full second per lap for every single lap of the Grand Prix. That number becomes even higher when you consider the slowdowns for pit stops and laps under the safety car.
Nevertheless, with four more races left to go in the 2022 season and the Drivers’ title already decided, we might see a bit of interesting racing now that the pressure’s off.