Max Verstappen dominated a controversially bizarre 2022 Japanese Grand Prix to take victory and a second F1 title.
Verstappen led from pole position amidst worsening rain but chaos behind him saw Carlos Sainz aquaplane out of the race as conditions quickly deteriorated, with the red flag quickly shown on Lap 2 after the Safety Car had been deployed.
During the red flag, controversy broke out after AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly was summoned by stewards and served a post-race 20 second time penalty for speeding under the red flag, albeit after he passed a recovery vehicle on track in near-zero visibility which sparked worldwide outrage.
The race resumed behind the Safety Car 127 minutes later with a rolling start, after the initial restart was suspended just one minute prior to taking place due to further heavy showers sweeping across the circuit.
Once the field returned to green flag racing on Lap 6 under Verstappen, he survived an early pit stop for intermediate tyres and blitzed the field to claim his 12th victory of the season ahead of Charles Leclerc, who fought off Sergio Perez for second.
A post-race time penalty of five seconds however demoted Leclerc to third and handed Verstappen his second consecutive title, amidst further controversy as full points were awarded according to Article 57 of F1 Sporting Regulations rather than half-points, despite 28 of the 53 laps completed.
Esteban Ocon, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, George Russell, Nicholas Latifi and Lando Norris rounded out the top ten.
Although there had been unclear speculation of a wet race since teams first arrived in Japan earlier this week, rain eventually swept in around 100 minutes before the race start amidst uncertainty around the intensity level heading into and across the race.
AlphaTauri meanwhile opted to change Gasly’s rear wing specification plus rear suspension following his Q1 exit, which meant that he would start from the pit lane and avoid any prospect of first corner chaos whilst those who qualified behind him were promoted up one position on grid.
At lights out, Verstappen got a sluggish start as Leclerc marginally led into Turn 1 with everyone on intermediate tyres but Verstappen hung his Red Bull round the outside, which enabled him to quickly reclaim the lead into the S Curves ahead of Leclerc and Perez who had leapfrogged Sainz.
Alonso meanwhile nudged Vettel into a spin at Turn 1 to dent the four-time champion’s hopes of a final points finish at his favourite race circuit, ahead of his retirement at end of this season.
Amidst the on-track scramble for position, the rain intensity ramped up and ultimately caused Sainz to aquaplane on the run towards Spoon Curve and spin out into the barriers on the opening lap.
Williams’ Alex Albon meanwhile retired with a gearbox issue out of the Turn 11 Hairpin, which forced the Safety Car to be deployed with stewards quickly throwing the red flag on the second lap due to the worsening weather conditions.
Guanyu Zhou however was able to continue after he suffered a spin at the Turn 11 hairpin, whilst Gasly unluckily got a billboard tangled across the front of his AlphaTauri as a result of Sainz’s spin.
Gasly however was left further enraged after he made a pit stop to remove the billboard and switch to wet tyres, as he narrowly avoided a collision with a recovery vehicle at the scene of Sainz’s crash in near-zero visibility whilst trying to catch the back of the pack.
Video footage of him passing the recovery vehicle rapidly emerged on social media much to worldwide anger, which led the FIA to hit back with the following statement shifting blame onto Gasly:
“The SC had been deployed and the race neutralised. Car 10, which had collected damage and pitted behind the SC, was then driving at high speed to catch up to the field.
“As conditions were deteriorating, the Red Flag was shown before Car 10 passed the location of the incident where it had been damaged the previous lap.”
FIA Stewards consequently also made the decision summoned Gasly to their office post-race for an ‘alleged breach of Article 57.2’ of F1 Sporting regulations, having clocked him speeding under the red flag at speeds up to 250km/h after passing the recovery truck.
Following discussions with Gasly, stewards handed him a 20s time penalty which dropped him from 17th to 18th in the final classification, as well as two penalty points.
This incident also comes eight years after Jules Bianchi suffered fatal injuries during a collision with a recovery truck, with his father – Philippe Bianchi posting his thoughts on Instagram in which he said: “No respect for the Life of the driver no respect for Jules memory incredible.”
McLaren’s Lando Norris also was unimpressed with the FIA’s irresponsible actions as he took to Twitter during the lengthy red flag, to tweet about the “Unacceptable” situation.
Wtf. How’s this happened!? We lost a life in this situation years ago. We risk our lives, especially in conditions like this. We wanna race. But this… Unacceptable.
— Lando Norris (@LandoNorris) October 9, 2022
Sainz spoke to Sky Sports F1 upon returning to the pit lane and also wasn’t pleased upon hearing of the controversy, as he commented: “Still at those speeds we see nothing, even behind the safety car. If a driver gets a bit out of the racing line and hits a tractor it over.
“I still don’t know why we keep, in these conditions, have a tractor on track. It’s just worthless, you were going to red flag it anyways – why risk it?.”
Perez echoed Norris’ actions as he too took to Twitter but vocally called for the removal of cranes on a race track, as he recalled the tragic events surrounding Bianchi’s accident and death in 2014.
How can we make it clear that we never want to see a crane on track?
We lost Jules because of that mistake.
What happened today is totally unacceptable!!!!!
I hope this is the last time ever I see a crane on track!
— Sergio Pérez (@SChecoPerez) October 9, 2022
Sky Sports F1 Commentator and ex F1 driver, Martin Brundle meanwhile tweeted his view that stewards should of instantly red flagged it due to the position of Sainz’s car.
Should have been an instant red flag with a stricken car in a critical position in those conditions. Clearly debris on track too. Should NEVER EVER be a tractor on track until the cars are all collected up behind a safety car or in the pits. Gasly can’t take all the blame here
— Martin Brundle (@MBrundleF1) October 9, 2022
Post-race, Grand Prix Drivers’ Association Director, Russell tweeted that a tractor should ‘never be on a circuit when race cars are…” in a firm statement about his view on the recovery vehicle controversy.
Firstly, huge congrats to Max on the title: very much deserved.
Secondly, thank you to the fans who stayed out in the rain. A shame we couldn’t make a better race of it, but your support was incredible.
Finally, a tractor should never be on a circuit when race cars are… never!
— George Russell (@GeorgeRussell63) October 9, 2022
FIA post-race moved to issue a ‘thorough review’ into the recovery vehicle debacle in a public statement, in which they confirmed that the investigation has been greenlit due to feedback from various drivers and specific circumstances.
The race meanwhile was set to resume behind the Safety Car on Lap 3 following a 42 minute suspension with all remaining 18 drivers on the full wet tyres with a rolling restart, yet stewards cancelled the restart just one minute prior to the green light due to continued deteriorating conditions.
New rules meant that a minimum of two green-flag laps are required before points can officially be awarded, due to a change of points system procedures after the farcical 2021 Belgian GP.
After an eventual two-hour and seven minute delay and three laps behind the Safety Car, the race eventually got back underway in green-flag conditions on Lap 6 as Vettel and Latifi gambled on intermediates immediately.
Everyone else soon followed suit with Verstappen and Leclerc doing so at end of Lap 7 which meant that Alonso then Mick Schumacher both briefly led the race, before Schumacher lost the lead to Verstappen on Lap 9 down the main straight.
Schumacher soon tumbled down the order as his lengthy wet tyre stint risk backfired whilst Verstappen sprinted to victory from Leclerc and Perez, who duelled until the end when Leclerc gained an advantage with an off-track defence against the Mexican.
Stewards consequently penalised Leclerc with a five-second time penalty which dropped him behind Perez to third, and gifted Verstappen a second title amidst slightly bizarre post-race press conference scenes as the news filtered through alongside announcement of full points.
Confusion though reigned because only 28 laps were completed which is below the 75% race distance needed for full points to be awarded, meaning that half-points should legally by logic be awarded in line with sporting regulations instead of full points.
Article 57 of F1 Sporting Regulations however states that if a race is suspended but is resumed, full points can be awarded which ultimately meant that the normal points finishes were handed out, with Verstappen now 114 points clear of Leclerc.
Leclerc also lost second position in the driver standings to Perez who now leads him by one point in their duel for the vice-champion honour.
Ocon meanwhile held off Hamilton for fourth following a race-long duel as Vettel, Alonso, Russell, Latifi and Norris rounded out the top ten finishers.
Speaking post-race once his second title was officially confirmed, Verstappen described his success as “crazy” but admitted that winning in Japan felt “really special” and “proud”
Reflecting on the initial confusion, Verstappen commented: “When I crossed the line, I didn’t know that I was World Champion, there was a lot of confusion but I thought it was quite funny.”
|1||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||28||3h 01m 44.004|
|2||Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||28||+ 27.066|
|3||Sergio Perez||Red Bull||28||+ 31.273|
|4||Esteban Ocon||Alpine||28||+ 39.685|
|5||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||28||+ 40.326|
|6||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||28||+ 46.358|
|7||Fernando Alonso||Alpine||28||+ 46.359|
|8||George Russell||Mercedes||28||+ 47.661|
|9||Nicholas Latifi||Williams||28||+ 70.143|
|10||Lando Norris||McLaren||28||+ 70.782|
|11||Daniel Ricciardo||McLaren||28||+ 72.877|
|12||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||28||+ 73.904|
|13||Yuki Tsunoda||AlphaTauri||28||+ 75.599|
|14||Kevin Magnussen||Haas||28||+ 86.016|
|15||Valtteri Bottas||Alfa Romeo||28||+ 86.496|
|16||Guanyu Zhou||Alfa Romeo||28||+ 87.043|
|17||Mick Schumacher||Haas||28||+ 92.523|
|18||Pierre Gasly||Haas||28||+ 108.091|