Max Verstappen claimed his second Formula One drivers’ title after winning a chaotic, rain-soaked Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka.
In contrast to last season’s final lap drama, Verstappen wrapped up the championship this year with four races to spare, having won 12 of the first 18 Grands Prix, but once again his moment of triumph was mired in controversy.
Verstappen crossed the line in first place after just 28 of the 53 laps had been run, after a long early delay meant the race could not be completed within the two-hour time limit.
His Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez was promoted to second place after Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, Verstappen’s only rival for the title, was given a five-second penalty for illegally cutting the final corner to stay ahead of Perez.
It looked as if Verstappen had fallen a point short of building an unassailable lead in the title race because the race was cut short, meaning reduced points would be awarded.
But to the bewilderment of most observers, FIA officials said the drivers were entitled to full points because the deductions only apply if a race ‘cannot be resumed’.
‘What can I say? incredible!’ the Dutchman said after being informed midway through a media interview that he had been crowned champion. ‘Very special to do it here. In front of the Honda people and the Japanese fans.’
He said beforehand that he wanted to win the title at Suzuka, the home circuit of Red Bull’s engine manufacturer Honda and the place where he began his Formula 1 career as a 17-year-old in 2014.
There was criticism of the decision to start the race at all in torrential conditions, as the spray from the track made it impossible for drivers to see each other.
Verstappen, who started on pole position, emerged as the leader on the first lap after seeing off a strong start from Leclerc. But the race was almost immediately stopped after two cars crashed in the rain and attempts to restart the race behind the safety car were quickly aborted.
Organisers were heavily criticised for bringing a recovery vehicle onto the track while the cars were still going round. Drivers recalled the incident at Suzuka eight years ago, when Jules Bianchi died from injuries sustained when he collided with a tractor on the circuit. The incident led to the introduction of the virtual safety car.
Alex Wurz, the chairman of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, said on Twitter: ‘We need to discuss a tractor on track … We can keep it short: this must not happen, guys.’
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