Formula 1: Back to Back


Max Verstappen has officially won the driver’s championship in 2022. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Over the weekend, Formula 1 (F1) continued its 2022 season as they traveled to Suzuka for the historic Japanese Grand Prix. With this being the first time since 2019 that F1 has traveled to Japan, both the teams and drivers were excited to return to an iconic track filled with memorable turns and moments. Heading into the race, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen could clinch his second consecutive driver’s championship. All he had to do was win the race and claim the fastest lap. With the resulting points difference, neither his teammate Sergio Perez nor Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari could catch up.

When it was time for qualifying, Verstappen got pole ahead of Leclerc. Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz was in third with Perez down in fourth. It was a close qualifying race with the top three being separated by less than half of a tenth, which promised an exciting race in Suzuka.

However, on race day, the skies opened up and it started to rain. Despite the rainfall, it was announced that the race would start on time. Rain is known as the great equalizer due to the fact that it places a huge emphasis on driver talent rather than the performance of the car. When the lights went out, Verstappen had a poor initial start, and Leclerc was immediately on the reigning champion. However, as they went into turn one, Verstappen stuck with it on the outside. As they went into turn two, he was able to retain the position. However, as they continued the lap, the rain forced Sainz into a mistake as he crashed out, losing control of the car and retiring from the race. Alex Albon’s Wiliams’ also retired but due to an engine issue. This brought out the safety car which later turned into a full red flag as the rain became too much to have a race. 

As the cars were still on the track, a tractor was put onto the track to remove the stricken Ferrari of Sainz. Pierre Gasly’s Alpha Tauri barely saw it and was able to avoid it. He immediately went on the radio, furiously asking why a tractor was on a track with poor visibility due to the spray and heavy rain. Back in 2015 here in Suzuka, F1 lost one of its drivers, Jules Bianchi, due to him crashing into a tractor that was on the track in a similar situation with poor visibility and low grip due to rain. Immediately, social media was questioning the decision to bring out the tractor, with some of the drivers even tweeting about the rash decision. The drivers were perplexed as to how the FIA apparently didn’t learn after what happened to Bianchi.

In a race, there is a three-hour overall time limit, which means that if a race starts at 1 p.m., it has to be over by 4 p.m. This isn’t to be confused with the two-hour race limit, which is to time how long the actual race is. This red flag was causing the three-hour time limit to dwindle down. Over one hour passed and there was still no update on when or if we would get a race. This would have an effect on the championship because if the race was cut short due to a red flag, full points would not be given unless a certain distance was reached, meaning that it was unlikely that Verstappen would be able to clinch the championship in Japan.

With the three-hour limit at less than one hour, it was announced that the race would indeed resume but with a rolling start, so the drivers got back in the cars, equipped with the full wet tires. As they drove around the track behind the safety car, it was clear that the track was suitable for intermediate tires. Now, the question was about when to pit. Do you pit while behind the safety car and lose your track position for a “cheaper” stop? Or do you pit after the safety car comes in, giving you time to build a gap and then pit without losing out on that much track position. When the safety car came in on lap six, Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin pulled the trigger and pitted for the intermediates alongside Albon’s teammate Nicholas Latifi. 

This was now essentially a 40-minute sprint to the end. Verstappen led ahead of Leclerc and then Perez in third. After the stops of Vettel and Latifi, everyone followed suit on lap eight with the pit lane bustling with activity from all 10 teams. With Vettel pitting earlier, he catapulted himself from last into sixth place. Meanwhile in the front, the top three stayed in those places after the pit stops with Verstappen easily building a gap to Leclerc who also had a gap, albeit smaller to Perez. 

As the time dwindled down, Verstappen continued to increase his lead while Perez started to catch up to Leclerc. It all came to a head on the final lap, with Perez trying to make a move past Leclerc. Leclerc stood firm, but as they headed into the final chicane, Leclerc left the track. When he rejoined, he nearly pushed Perez out of the track but was able to stay in front of the Red Bull driver. However, Leclerc was immediately given a five-second penalty, promoting Perez to second. Verstappen had dominated the race and finished over 25 seconds ahead of both Leclerc and Perez and waltzed into his 12th victory of the season.

When the chequered flag was shown, everyone assumed that due to the lengthy red flag and around half of the actual laps completed, partial points would be given and the championship battle would go into the next race. However, the FIA announced that since the race was actually restarted, full points were given. With Leclerc’s penalty demoting him to third, Verstappen was crowned the 2022 driver’s champion, making him one of the few drivers in history to win back-to-back world championships.

After this hectic race, F1 will head to Texas to the Circuit of the Americas for the United States Grand Prix. The driver’s championship is already wrapped up, but the constructor’s championship is still left up for grabs. Red Bull have a dominant lead with a commanding 165 point margin over Ferrari. The simplest way to clinch it is to have Verstappen and Perez score a combined 26 points, which would secure their first constructors championship win since 2013. Despite winning the title, Verstappen is close to equaling or even breaking some season records, so don’t expect the two-time champion to take his foot off the gas pedal as the season heads into the final stretch.