After being gone for two years due to the pandemic, Formula 1 returned to Suzuka Circuit for the 2022 Japanese Grand Prix. The track is famous for being the site of several title deciders, with this year being the latest addition.
Max Verstappen (Red Bull) landed on pole with Ferrari drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in P2 and P3, respectively, while Sergio Perez was in P4. Although there were supposed to be 53 laps of racing, the race was delayed and cut short because of the rain.
Once the lights went out, Verstappen had a bad start but managed to defend his position well going into the first two corners.
It didn’t take long before accidents happened as Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) spun out after contact with Fernando Alonso (Alpine), and Sainz aquaplaned and crashed resulting in a safety car, then a red flag.
The drivers were outraged over a tractor being on the track, before all the F1 cars entered the pits, since Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) nearly crashed into it.
A similar incident happened on the same track in 2014 where Jules Bianchi lost control of his car and crashed into a tractor that was recovering another vehicle, resulting in the young driver’s death on July 17, 2015.
After a lengthy delay, the race was resumed. All the drivers were required to use wet tires, but no one liked that because they were significantly slower than the intermediate tires.
The ones up front couldn’t afford to pit or else they’d get caught in traffic. However, those lower on the grid had nothing to lose since they would have clear road.
Vettel and Nicholas Latifi (Williams) immediately pitted for intermediates and reaped the reward. By the time everyone had switched to the same tires, Vettel was P6 and Latifi was P8 all the way until the end of the race.
Meanwhile, Verstappen pulled away from Leclerc as Perez caught up to the Ferrari driver. Toward the closing stages, three tight battles were going on. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) was hot on the trail of Esteban Ocon (Alpine), who was in P4, but couldn’t make the pass due to the straight-line speed of the Alpine.
Both former world champions, Alonso closed in on Vettel, who was in P6, with both of them crossing the line together, only separated by 0.011 second in favor of the German. However, the title-deciding battle wasn’t actually between Verstappen and Leclerc, but with Perez and Leclerc.
The Red Bull driver did his best to keep up with the Ferrari driver, but a lockup by Leclerc on the last corner in the final lap saw him leaving the track and gaining an advantage. Although Leclerc crossed the finish line second, he was handed a five-second penalty post-race, dropping him to P3 with Perez promoted to P2.
With less than 75% of the full race distance covered, it seemed like Max would have to wait another race before clinching the title. However, right before the post-race interview, the Dutchman was told that he was already the world champion. Apparently, the FIA decided to award full points on the basis of the fact that the race was restarted after the red flag, overriding the rule on minimum race distance.
In the end, no one had any doubts about who was going to be the world champion. We just wish it wasn’t anticlimactic, decided post-race over a penalty and a technicality. The season isn’t over yet as there are four more races left with the next one being the United States Grand Prix on October 23 (October 24, Philippine time).
Apart from Red Bull securing the constructors’ title, is there anything else left to look forward to this year?