MAX VERSTAPPEN IS THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD! For the 2nd consecutive year, Max Verstappen is the World Drivers’ Champion. He clinched the title at the 2022 Japanese GP, with 4 races remaining in the season. He is a Double World Champion – a prestigious title only 6 other drivers hold. These include Mika Häkkinen, Fernando Alonso, Alberto Ascari, Graham Hill, Jim Clark and Emerson Fittipaldi.
And just like Ascari, Häkkinen, and Alonso, Verstappen won these titles in 2 years in a row. Some of the greatest F1 drivers won more than 2 titles, but their first 2 were back-to-back. These include Jack Brabham, Sebastian Vettel, and of course, Michael Schumacher. With 2 titles to his name, Max Verstappen’s career is looking more promising than ever. Could we see another Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, or Michael Schumacher-like streak of championships? I have a feeling that we’re not at the end of the Max Verstappen era…
Compared to last year, the circumstances were very different. Verstappen won the title with 4 races remaining, instead of in an incredibly tight and highly controversial season finale. And if he hadn’t won the championship in Japan, it’s almost certain the title would’ve been his in the USA. This year didn’t have the controversial crashes and a limitlessly aggressive Verstappen. This time, Max was knew what the maximum was, and kept his cool. He clearly matured, and is reaping the rewards for that.
However at the 2022 Japanese GP, we only found out that Verstappen is the World Champion post-race. Torrential weather came in the way of a conventional race. The race got underway for only 2 laps before the race director suspended the race, since it was just too wet. Due to the long Red Flag, the race now had a 3-hour limit instead of 2 hours. The Red Flag period was very long, because when the race got back underway, there were only 40 minutes left in the 3-hour period. That gave us a 40-minute sprint to the finish line.
First off, we’re going to look at what is probably one of the most shocking incidents of the year. The incident of the crane being on the track. Then we’re going to look at the strange situation in which Verstappen became World Champion. And lastly. we’re going to analyze Leclerc’s penalty, and how Ferrar is unhappy with it; did the FIA just hand Verstappen the title once again?
The Outrageous Crane Incident
“There was a risk that I could lose control of the car, and if I lost it I would’ve been in the tractor, and then we know the outcome.” That is what Pierre Gasly said in an interview after the race. Just let that sink in. It’s something that I never want to picture. On Lap 1, a range of incidents took place due to the soaking wet conditions. The images from those couple of opening laps show that visibility for the drivers was next to nothing. We saw spins, drivers making contact, and Carlos Sainz having a big crash. Sainz aquaplaned and spun into the barrier on the approach to the spoon curve. Albon also DNF’d on Lap 1, with a hydraulics issue caused by contact.
Another issue was that Pierre Gasly had a part of a sponsorship board in front of him on the nose of his car, which left him unable to see much. Because of all of this, the race director deployed the Safety Car. Gasly got a front wing change and rejoined the track miles behind the pack. He was going at high speeds to catch up to the pack. However, while he was going at high speeds, the Red Flag came out. And around the same time, he arrived at the scene of Sainz’s crash. And guess what he saw. A crane/tractor on the track to pick up Sainz’s car. Keep in mind, Gasly was going at over 200 kph. Had he aquaplaned, things could’ve gone badly wrong. Gasly truly is very lucky.
The stewards gave Gasly a post-race 20-second penalty and 2 penalty points for going so fast when the FIA had Red Flagged the race. However, had he slowed down suddenly, it’s likely he would’ve faced aquaplaning. But why was a crane on the track so outrageous? Let me take you back 8 years. At the very same circuit, in similarly torrential conditions, a crane was operating on a car. This wasn’t on the track itself, with the tractor in 2022 being on the racing line. But back in 2014, Jules Bianchi slid off the track and his car hit the tractor. His head hit the tractor, resulting in injuries that eventually took his life.
And at the 2022 Japanese GP, of all races, there’s a tractor literally on the track. All of the cars passed the tractor while in line under the Safety Car, but Gasly was actually at full speed. In 2014, when Jules Bianchi had the fatal crash, it was under the Safety Car as well. But that didn’t save his life. Gasly complained on the radio immediately after passing the tractor, and talked about how it was “unacceptable.” I completely agree with him, and so do other drivers. These drivers are putting their lives on the line, and this is how the FIA is keeping them safe? Repeating fatal mistakes? Gasly spoke on a twitch stream of how he had nightmares of the crane incident at Suzuka after the incident himself. What could’ve happened that day is nothing short of nightmarish.
The FIA need to show some responsibility and investigate into why this happened and they need to ensure that there is never a tractor on the track while the cars are on the track. I dearly hope that the FIA don’t foul up this way again. Seeing a tractor on the track in wet conditions at Suzuka brought back memories for Gasly and many others. And these memories are ones they didn’t want to remember. RIP Jules Bianchi.
Is Max The Champion? Is He Not The Champion? You Sure?
After the checkered flag fell at the 2022 Japanese GP, drama ensued. Max Verstappen won his 2nd World Championship, and he didn’t even know it! He won the championship under unique circumstances; even Verstappen himself was confused! Originally, Verstappen didn’t win the World Championship. However, soon after the race finished, the FIA penalized Leclerc with a 5-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage. That promoted Sergio Perez to P2, and left Leclerc in P3. That meant that Verstappen had gained enough points on Leclerc for it to be mathematically impossible for Leclerc to beat Verstappen in the remaining races.
Johnny Herbert was doing the post-race interviews, and while doing Sergio Perez’s interview, he must’ve received the information in his earpiece. Herbert stopped interviewing Perez, and turned to Verstappen and informed him of the penalty. The then said to Max, “World Champion.” Cheers came from the Red Bull team and the fans. Max was handed a mic to celebrate his 2nd consecutive championship in a slightly anticlimactic and surprising way.
For me, I wasn’t able to watch the race live, so I was relying solely on social media for the news. Social media was blowing up, as people slowly started to confirm that Max Verstappen had truly become World Champion. In the cool down room, Verstappen needed to be told and convinced that he did actually win the title. It was a hilarious moment, and it was quite confusing for the fans to suddenly hear that Verstappen was the champion. But Verstappen couldn’t have won the championship in Suzuka without Leclerc’s penalty.
Ferrari Upset With Leclerc’s Penalty
At the 2022 Japanese GP, we saw a penalty being given out moments after the incident happened. But at the 2022 Singapore GP, the stewards needed to wait til after the race to even investigate the incident. Why did the stewards deal with incidents so differently in Japan? In Singapore, the stewards spoke to the drivers and took their time to hand out the penalty to Perez. But in Japan, the stewards just gave the penalty without speaking to the drivers at all. Why was this the case? While Ferrari will not appeal the decision, they were unhappy with it.
“Seven days after Singapore, while there it took so many laps to decide, and then even after the race we had to hear the drivers to take a simple decision which was straightforward, today they took it in a few seconds,” said Mattia Binotto, the Team Principal of Ferrari.
“In such a situation why are you not listening to the drivers while you were doing it in Singapore? Or vice versa, if you go straight for decisions which are obvious,” Binotto continued.
“The five seconds penalty of Singapore should have been given immediately, which would have given us opportunity to manage certainly differently the situation and it could have been a potential victory. So it’s frustrating and we are disappointed by that as well.”
And moving on to the incident in Japan, in Ferrari’s eyes, Leclerc shouldn’t have been penalized. “In our a view honestly he didn’t gain any advantage,” he said. “He was ahead, he stayed ahead. He’s got a gap, he kept the same gap. So still arguable but that’s the way they decided which we will accept.”
However the FIA stewards said the decision to penalise Leclerc was consistent with past rulings on drivers.
According to the stewards, even though he didn’t gain a position by going off the track, he “gained a lasting advantage.”
“This determination takes into account the numerous driver briefings where the race directors advised that an ‘advantage’ would be considered as having been gained if you go off track and return in the same position whilst defending. There have been a number of precedents this year in particular [Zhou] in Saudi Arabia and [Alonso] in Miami.”