Max Verstappen of Oracle Red Bull Racing at the Japanese Grand Prix on October 9, 2022.
© Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool
F1

Double the dose: Max Verstappen is F1's world champion for a second time

The Oracle Red Bull Racing star enters rarefied air, securing back-to-back F1 crowns with four races in hand after a record-setting Sunday at Suzuka in Japan.
By Matthew Clayton
10 min readPublished on
Max Verstappen was matter-of-fact. Asked before the Japanese Grand Prix what it would take to win a second Formula One world title in Honda's backyard at Suzuka, the Oracle Red Bull Racing star was succinct.
"We need a perfect weekend," he said, knowing the crown was his if he could leave Japan with a world championship lead of 112 points or more over closest rivals Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) and team-mate Sergio Pérez. Sounds simple, right? Sure, but Sunday's 53-lap race was anything but.
Verstappen's victory was his 12th of a record-setting season, but how it came about was protracted, somewhat confusing, and came with a late-race twist. Torrential rain saw the race last all of two laps before it was red-flagged, and it looked like a race wouldn't happen at all, the standing water on the track delaying a restart for more than two hours, and with dusk approaching rapidly under Suzuka's leaden skies.
When action resumed, initially behind the safety car before Verstappen led the field away on Lap 6, the Dutchman cleared off to such an extent that there was little intrigue as to who would win the race. Behind him, though, team-mate Pérez was about to play his part.
Max Verstappen of Oracle Red Bull Racing at the Japanese Grand Prix on October 9, 2022.
Verstappen was in a class of his own in the trickiest conditions imaginable
Leclerc had Pérez in his wheel tracks as the last lap of the truncated 28-lap race began, with the three-hour time window permitted to hold the race running out. On the final corner, Leclerc ran off track and gained an advantage to keep Pérez behind him and was issued a five-second post-race penalty that promoted the Mexican to second for Red Bull's fifth 1-2 result this season.
Then the twist had another twist: in completing 28 laps, full world championship points were awarded as the race had gone past 50 percent of its scheduled number of laps. That, allied with Leclerc's penalty, meant Verstappen had a 113-point championship lead where 112 would suffice to wrap up his second title; halfway through his post-race pre-podium interview, Verstappen was told the title – not just the win – was his.
Max Verstappen of Oracle Red Bull Racing at the Japanese Grand Prix on October 9, 2022.
A 12th win of the year was one thing for Verstappen, but behind him...
In annexing a second world championship the year after his first, Verstappen joins an elite band of six other drivers who got to the top of the world and stayed there, repeating their first title with a second the next season.
Only Alberto Ascari (1952-53), Jack Brabham (1959-60), Alain Prost (1985-86), Michael Schumacher (1994-95), Mika Hakkinen (1998-99) and Sebastian Vettel (2010-11) have managed what the 25-year-old Dutchman has done in 2021 and 2022. That his achievement came in Honda's backyard at Suzuka and set a new benchmark for Red Bull made this win all the more rewarding.
Verstappen's victory was his 12th this year and the 14th earned by Red Bull in 2022, usurping 2013 (13 wins) as the most successful season in the team's history, while his 32nd F1 victory saw him join fellow two-time world champion, Fernando Alonso, for sixth in the all-time record books.
If the sight of Red Bull spraying the championship champagne in Suzuka looks familiar, it should; the last time Japan played host to the title-deciding race of a season came in 2011, the second of Vettel's four consecutive world titles for the team.
On a weekend where Oracle Red Bull Racing and Scuderia AlphaTauri announced a series of new agreements with Honda to strengthen the alliance between the organisations – notably the return of Honda's distinctive logo on both cars – it was a fitting ending to a race that will be talked about for years to come.
Here's how Verstappen joined some of the sport's greats as a dual world champion.

What they said

Given the chaotic end to the race, it was understandable that Verstappen had little clue of the final-corner drama that happened behind him with Leclerc and Pérez – and was even more shocked to find that, with full world championship points awarded, that title number two was his.
"What a year we've had… it's been incredible and something I could have never imagined happening, after last year fighting until the end and having such a good car again this year," he said.
"I'm so thankful to everyone who has been contributing to this success. The whole team who is here, but also back at the factory that is constantly working flat out. They are never missing any motivation to try and make the car faster. Besides that, the work we've done together with Honda – every year, constantly improving rapidly. To win now twice with them is very emotional, also here (in Japan) with everyone watching. I'm very proud that we could do it here.
"The first one is a bit more emotional, but the second one is even more beautiful, the season we've had and the wins, the great races, the teamwork and the 1-2s that we've had. Also we're leading the constructors' (championship), so we really want to focus on that. It's been a pretty special year."
Max Verstappen of Oracle Red Bull Racing at the Japanese Grand Prix on October 9, 2022.
The moment: Max realises that title number two is his
Given the conditions were better suited to boats than the RB18 for much of Sunday, Verstappen was relieved that a race happened at all.
"Leaving here without a race would have been terrible… I'm just very happy that we got to race in the end," Verstappen said.
"It was raining quite heavily and it was really tough for us to drive. Luckily we got quite a good amount of laps in. The car was flying…
"I'm very pleased of course to win here, but very happy to see all the fans and that they would stick around. It was getting a little bit dark at the end, but very happy that we could race here."
Oracle Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner sported a look that was one-third elation, one-third confusion and one-third exhaustion after a comfortable title win came after a crazy conclusion.
"We thought that it wasn't going to be full points awarded – we thought we were one point short," Horner said.
"That's beyond all of our dreams. Max has been truly, truly dominant – that's our 14th victory, a record for us as a team. The way he's driven… we came back after some difficulties in the first couple of races but, honestly, he and the team have just raised it to another level.
"To get that victory in Japan with Honda… it's truly special. It's been a phenomenal performance from everyone involved."

Checo's pressure makes it possible

It wasn't lost on Horner or the team that Pérez's second place after Leclerc was hit with his penalty elevated the Mexican to second in the drivers' championship by a point over the Ferrari driver, and that Oracle Red Bull Racing now sits tantalisingly close to securing the constructors' title, something the team hasn't held since 2013.
Red Bull now leads Ferrari by 165 points with four races left; should they leave the next race in Austin in the United States with 147 points or more of an advantage, the double crown the team is desperate to achieve will be won.
Sunday's second was straight from the Pérez playbook; from fourth on the grid, he didn’t have the pace to go with Verstappen and Leclerc early, but after the field discarded their wet-weather tyres to slither around on intermediates from Lap 7 onwards, Pérez made his move as his famed tyre management skills shone in the gloom.
Sergio Pérez of Oracle Red Bull Racing at the Japanese Grand Prix on October 9, 2022.
Pérez never let up, and a last-gasp second was his reward
With Leclerc's tyres struggling for performance as he fell back from Verstappen, Pérez slowly but surely reeled him in, and was all over the Monegasque driver as the final lap began. Time looked to be Pérez's biggest enemy, but his pressure paid off – and allowed Verstappen an extra two points' worth of advantage over the Ferrari driver to make his title possible.
Pérez's second place was comfortably his best Suzuka showing – he'd never finished better than seventh in nine previous journeys to Japan – while his ninth podium this year further cements his 12th F1 season as his best yet.

Gasly's close call as AlphaTauri fail to score

The finishing positions of AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda – in his first home Grand Prix – and Pierre Gasly didn’t make for world championship points; Tsunoda was 13th, while Gasly was 17th of the 18 classified finishers. But Gasly was front of mind for many after Sunday, following an early-race incident that left the sport's drivers confused and angry.
Ferrari's Carlos Sainz, who qualified third, crashed on the opening lap and Gasly, unsighted in the spray, collected a large piece of trackside signage that had spilled onto the circuit and was forced to pit for repairs after one lap.
As the Frenchman chased the back before the race was red-flagged a lap later, he was incensed to see a recovery vehicle on track to collect Sainz's broken Ferrari; it was at Suzuka in 2014 when Monegasque driver Jules Bianchi ran off track in similarly wet conditions and collected a tractor that was inside the barriers, suffering head injuries that led to his death the following year.
"I don't understand how this can happen," Gasly said. "We could have waited one more minute to get back in the pit lane and then put the tractor on track. I passed two metres from that crane. I care about my colleagues and in the future that we don't face this situation."
Pierre Gasly of Scuderia AlphaTauri at the Japanese Grand Prix on October 9, 2022.
Gasly was relieved after seeing the finish in 17th place
AlphaTauri was in the news well before the lights went out at Suzuka on Sunday, too, with the announcement that Nyck de Vries would be joining Tsunoda at the team for 2023 in place of Gasly coming ahead of qualifying.
de Vries, 27, joins AlphaTauri after his starring stand-in role as Alex Albon's replacement at Williams in last month's Italian Grand Prix, while the Dutchman has a glittering pre-F1 CV that contains Formula E (2020-21) and Formula 2 (2019) titles.
Gasly will replace Fernando Alonso at Alpine for next season, creating an all-French line-up at the French team alongside Esteban Ocon. All of Gasly's 104 F1 starts have come with AlphaTauri, Toro Rosso or Red Bull, with his day of days coming at the 2020 Italian Grand Prix when he took his sole victory to date.

Timing is everything

With all of the field starting Sunday's delayed race on wet-weather tyres and with visibility at a premium, it was a case of fortune favouring the brave for those bold enough to switch to intermediate tyres sooner than was ideal – and two drivers at the back used that gamble to score points.
In his final race at Suzuka before his retirement, Vettel found himself at the back in his Aston Martin after being nudged off track by Alpine's Fernando Alonso at start, while Williams driver Nicholas Latifi qualified last and figured he had nothing to lose. The pair pitted as soon as they could once the safety car released the field, and made massive gains before their rivals could react.
Vettel and Latifi faded as their tyres aged and the chequered flag loomed, but held firm to finish sixth (Vettel) and ninth (Latifi) respectively, Latifi's two world championship points his first of the year.

A pause before the final push

F1 heads back Stateside after a week's break following Japan to the Circuit of the Americas in Austin for the United States Grand Prix (October 23), which precedes the Mexico City Grand Prix the following Sunday (October 30).
It's a double-header that resonated with Verstappen a year ago, the Dutchman annexing the perfect 50-point haul to increase his championship lead en route to world title number one, while his past three visits to Austin have ended up with him wearing a Stetson on the podium and taking home a trophy (second in 2018 and third in 2019 before last year's victory).
Before he had a true home race in 2015, Pérez called F1's annual visit to COTA his 'home' race, and with good reason as thousands of his fans flocked across the border to cheer on their hero. Last year's third place – as part of a trio of thirds sandwiched between Turkey and Mexico – is by far Checo's best Austin result in nine outings at the Texan track.

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