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Formula One: Max Verstappen wins title with four to go

25-year-old Red Bull driver has enjoyed one of the most dominant seasons in sport’s history with Suzuka the scene of his 12th win in 18 races
Max Verstappen.
Max Verstappen.
File picture

Reuters, AP/PTI   |   Suzuka   |   Published 10.10.22, 03:16 AM

Max Verstappen won his first Formula One championship amid controversy last year and the second after confusion at the Japanese Grand Prix here on Sunday, but this time there was no argument about the outcome.

The 25-year-old Red Bull driver has enjoyed one of the most dominant seasons in the sport’s history with Suzuka the scene of his 12th win in 18 races and four rounds still remaining.


Verstappen has been dominant all season and claimed the title with four races remaining.

The Dutchman started from pole in pouring rain only for the race to be stopped after two laps as several cars crashed. It was resumed two hours later with 28 of the 53 laps completed and Verstappen leading the whole way.

He was followed by teammate Sergio Perez in second and Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc. They were the only drivers who could have overtaken Verstappen for the title.

Verstappen now has an unsurmountable lead with 366 points. Perez has 253 and Leclerc 252.

“Max has been truly, truly dominant. That’s our 14th victory (of 2022), a record for us (in a single season), and the way he has driven since the first race,” said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner.

“We came back from some difficulties in the first couple of races, but he and the team have just raised it to another level.”

The Dutch driver’s first title was marked by drama and acrimony as he fought a down-to-the wire, battle-of-the-generations duel with Mercedes’ seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.

That ended in one of the sport’s greatest controversies, with a late change to the safety car procedures leading to a last lap overtake in Abu Dhabi.

“The first is more emotional but the second is more beautiful,” said Verstappen, who won the rain-hit race by a massive 27 seconds.

Buoyed by his 2021 title win over the sport’s most successful driver ever, Verstappen has shown metronomic consistency.

“Some of the drives have been just simply outstanding this year under enormous pressure,” Horner had told reporters after the Singapore Grand Prix. “He’s just constantly delivered.”

Verstappen suffered two retirements from the first three races but has otherwise finished all but two rounds in the top three.

He has had an impressive car, with Red Bull nailing the radical rules introduced this year, and has benefited from reliability woes, strategic missteps, and errors derailing Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc’s title challenge.

The Dutch driver, whose experienced teammate Sergio Perez has won twice in 2022, also showed maturity and assurance in winning from 10th place on the starting grid in Hungary, 14th in Belgium and seventh in Italy.

There have been flashes of his old hot-headedness, like in Singapore where insufficient fuel in his Red Bull car prevented him from fighting for pole and left him furious, or in Spain where he raged over the radio about a malfunction.

But the boy who made his F1 debut at the age of 17, guided to greatness by the firm hand of his father and formerracer Jos, has grown into an unstoppable force.

His dominance has been reminiscent of Britain’s Nigel Mansell and German greats Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel.

Verstappen can still break the record of most wins in a season, shared by Schumacher and Vettel at 13.

“I know that it’s been a really special season,” he said. “I’m enjoying it a lot but I'll probably enjoy more after the season, looking back at it.”

On Sunday, Verstappen did not know initially that he had won the season title after the shortened race, thinking that the full 25 points for a win would not be awarded. But a short time later, the FIA —F1’s governing body — awarded full points.

And he apologized to the crowd on the track public address system just after the race. “The championship obviously did not come the way this time around,” he said. Seconds later, television coverage declared him champion.

At the start, Verstappen took the lead with a risky pass after a slow start but several cars further back lost control including Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who spun and was knocked out.

Organizers stopped the race after two laps. Alpha Taura’s Pierre Gasly complained on his radio that he passed are covery vehicle that was allowed on to the track shortly after the safety car emerged. This incident apparently came just as the race was red flagged.

This is a sensitive issue in Japan. In 2014, French driver Jules Bianchi collided on the course with a recovery vehicle. He was placed in an induced coma and died nine months later.

Max mileage in triumph

■ Verstappen now has 32 career wins, the same as former champion Fernando Alonso and one more than Nigel Mansell

■ The Dutchman, with 12 wins in the season, is one short of the single-season record set by Michael Schumacher in 2004 and Sebastian Vettel in 2013

■ Before Sunday’s race, Verstappen had never led a lap at Suzuka

■ Verstappen is now the 11th driver to win successive world Championship titles

■ On Sunday, Verstappen surpassed 5,000 miles in the lead in his career

■ Sunday’s win at Suzuka was just the fourth time this season that Verstappen won from pole

■ The last time a drivers’ championship was clinched at Suzuka was in 2011 when Sebastian Vettel won the crown

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