Verstappen retains F1 title after dramatic Japan GP

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Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen holds up the trophy during the awarding ceremony after the race of the Formula One Japan Grand Prix held at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka City, Japan, Oct. 9, 2022. (Xinhua/Zhang Xiaoyu)

Red Bull's Max Verstappen took a dominant win in a rain-shortened F1 Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday to seal the 2022 F1 Drivers' World Championship title.

In a race that was suspended by two hours due to heavy rain, Verstappen led away from his pole position and managed his tyres effectively to win by 26 seconds when the race hit the time limit after 28 laps of a scheduled 53.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc had withstood heavy pressure from Verstappen's teammate Sergio Perez to cross the line in second place, but was penalised for cutting the chicane on the final lap.

Leclerc's resultant five-second penalty lifted Perez into second place, and ensured that Leclerc could no longer overhaul Verstappen's points lead of 114, confirming the Dutchman as the World Champion of 2022.

"It's crazy. Very mixed emotions," said Verstappen, who didn't initially realise that he had won the title, owing to confusion over both Leclerc's penalty and the awarding of full points despite a shortened race.

"Looking back, what a year we've had so far. It's been incredible. It's something I could never have imagined. After last year, fighting until the end, and then having such a good car again this year. I'm so thankful to everyone who has been contributing to this success."

The race had started on schedule with all drivers on Intermediate tyres, but was red-flagged before the end of Lap 2 after Carlos Sainz crashed and several other drivers spun.

More concerningly, Pierre Gasly was unhappy after encountering a recovery vehicle on track to recover Sainz's car before the race had been red flagged.

Such an incident evoked memories of the tragic accident that befell Jules Bianchi in similar conditions at Suzuka in 2014, when the Frenchman struck a recovery vehicle at high speed and suffered severe head injuries that would ultimately claim his life.

After a delay of two hours, racing resumed with a rolling start under the Safety Car with 40 minutes of racing action still to come, and all cars were mandated to have full Wet tyres fitted.

Though visibility was in short supply, track conditions seemed more manageable, and almost all the drivers dived into the pits over the first few racing laps to switch to Intermediate tyres, with the top three of Verstappen, Leclerc and Perez doing so without losing their positions.

With only 40 minutes of racing ahead, most of the drivers were desperate to avoid having to make an extra pit stop which would see them lose track position, and tried gamely to eke out their Inters until the end of the race.

Though Verstappen and Leclerc initially pulled away from the rest of the field by over one second per lap, the Red Bull appeared to manage its tyres more effectively, and Leclerc soon fell back and into the clutches of Perez.

Behind the top three, Alpine's Esteban Ocon successfully fended off Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes to take fourth place, with Sebastian Vettel finishing a strong sixth for Aston Martin after an early switch to Inters paid off.

Ocon's teammate Fernando Alonso was one of the few drivers to pit for an extra set of Inters, and he used his pace to overtake several cars in the closing laps, with Vettel just pipping him to sixth on the line.

In eighth place came an unhappy George Russell in his Mercedes, ahead of Williams' Nicholas Latifi, who scored his first points of the season after also gambling on an early switch to Inters, with Lando Norris rounding out the top ten.

Verstappen's win, combined with the awarding of full championship points despite the shortened race, puts the Dutchman on a total 366 points that cannot now be overhauled.

Perez's second place also sees him overtake Leclerc into second place in the standings, with the two drivers on 253 and 252 points respectively.

In the Constructors' Championship, Red Bull move onto 619 points, ahead of Ferrari on 454 and Mercedes on 387.

The next round of the 2022 F1 World Championship is the United States Grand Prix in Austin, where Red Bull can seal the Constructors' Championship. 

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