Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took his 12th win of the season at the 2022 Japanese Grand Prix winning the 2022 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship in the process after Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was handed a five-second penalty.
Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez would claim second after forcing Leclerc to make a mistake on the final lap at the final corner, which ultimately penalized the Monegasque driver.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton rounded out the top five.
“It’s crazy, very mixed emotions,” Verstappen said after the race. “Winning the championship, what a year we’ve had. It’s incredible!
“I’m so thankful to everyone who’s been contributing to the success, the whole team has been working flat out.
“Beside that, the work we did with Honda every year, constantly improving, gets very emotional especially here. I’m very proud we could do it here.
“The first is more emotional but the second is more beautiful. We’re leading the constructors so we want to focus on that, to secure that.”
A wet start
With the rain coming earlier than anticipated, the drivers were forced to start on the intermediate tyres. Alphatauri’s Pierre Gasly would start from the pit lane after changing the rear wing on his AT02.
Verstappen would get away slowly, with Leclerc pulling alongside the Red Bull driver heading into turn 1. The Dutchman however would maintain his lead driving around the outside the Leclerc as they made their way through the first part of the circuit.
Behind them, Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz would aquaplane off the track and crash out of the race necessitating the need for a safety car. Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel would make contact with Alpine’s Fernando Alonso and spin, while Alex Albon would suffer a mechanical failure.
The race would eventually be red-flagged by the officials with the conditions deemed to be too dangerous.
Gasly’s tractor incident
The big talking point during the delay was the fact that Gasly drove past a tractor while still making his way back to the pits.
The incident was an eerie reminder of the one that occurred in 2014, which ultimately saw Jules Bianchi lose his life from the injuries he sustained by crashing into a recovery vehicle.
The drivers made their way onto the circuit with 48 minutes left on the race clock. After a few laps behind the Safety Car, the drivers finally started the race in earnest.
Vettel and Williams’ Nicholas Latifi decided to gamble on the intermediate tyres with both drivers coming into the pits behind the safety car.
The decision would set off a flurry of activity in the pits with almost all the drivers swapping on the green band tyres with Verstappen the big winner as a slow stop for Leclerc would see him lose time to the Dutchman.
Ocon vs Hamilton
As the race progressed the battle between Alpine driver Ocon and Hamilton became the main talking point with the Frenchman driver consistently frustrating the seven-time world champion with his stout defense.
As Hamilton struggled to make his move, his teammate George Russell overtook a string of cars going from 11th to eighth.
As the race clock came down, some of the drivers decided to make their second stop of the race with Alonso the most high profile of the lot.
At the front of the field, Leclerc struggled with tyre wear with the Monegasque driver coming under threat from Perez.
As the drivers battled for position on the circuit, Alonso’s decision to box would prove to be a masterstroke with the Spaniard making his way back up the order and missing out on sixth by a hair’s breadth.
While Ocon would beat Hamilton to the line, Leclerc’s defense over Perez would have a controversial end with the Monegasque driver under investigation for gaining an advantage for leaving the circuit.
Verstappen the champion
Leclerc would ultimately receive a five-second penalty, meaning that Verstappen is now the 2022 Drivers’ Champion. The Dutchman now joins the likes of Mika Hakkinen and Alonso in securing back-to-back championships with Verstappen in dominant form this year.
Verstappen will now focus on securing the most wins in a single campaign with the Red Bull needing two more wins to break the record.