Perhaps one year Max Verstappen will win the Formula One championship in an ordinary, noncontroversial fashion. This is not that year.
The Red Bull driver was declared winner of the rain-shortened race amid confusion over rules governing the awarding of points in the rain. The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, the sport’s governing body, determined that full points, rather than the partial points teams had expected, could be awarded because the race was resumed after a two-hour delay despite ultimately being cut short. That gave Verstappen a 113-point lead with only 112 points possible over the final four races.
Verstappen got an assist in securing the title when his rival, Charles Leclerc, was found to have cut the final corner under pressure from Verstappen’s teammate, Sergio Perez. Leclerc was assessed a five-second penalty that dropped him to third.
The delay in the FIA’s final determination left Verstappen, who won his 12th race of the season, initially believing the championship would have to wait until next weekend’s race in Austin. “The championship obviously did not come the way this time around,” he said, according to the Associated Press, apologizing to the crowd on the public address system.
His skepticism continued even as his crew swarmed to hug him, with drivers figuring that only partial points would be awarded for the race. “Once I crossed the line I thought, ‘It was an amazing race, good points again, but I’m not world champion yet,’ ” he later said.
Verstappen had started from the pole in pouring rain, but the race was quickly suspended because of a crash involving Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari. Cars were running behind the safety car before the recovery vehicle was released onto the track. Drivers questioned why the recovery vehicle was out with the track so slippery, and FIA said it will investigate the matter. Two hours later, the race was resumed but only 28 of 53 laps were completed, with Verstappen leading all the way.
Still, Verstappen was one of the last to realize he had won the title, repeatedly asking despite being crowned champion, “Have I or have I not [wrapped up the title]?” during another post-race interview, according to CNN. “I am hearing different things.”
With confirmation, he sat down in front of a “world champion” banner, with his second championship crowning a dominant season that marked a transition in the sport. With one more victory, the 25-year-old Dutch driver would tie the single-season record set by Michael Schumacher in 2004 and matched by Sebastian Vettel in 2013.
In December, Verstappen edged Lewis Hamilton for the championship in even more chaotic and controversial circumstances, denying Hamilton his record eighth title by overtaking him on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. During that 2021 season finale, race director Michael Masi’s decisions following a late safety car period were intended to restart the race with one lap remaining, but he partly ignored FIA regulations in making them. That enabled Verstappen to pass Hamilton on the final lap of the race, inviting confusion and acrimony from Hamilton’s Mercedes team and many observers.
An FIA investigation later determined that “human error” was a factor in the controversial finish but found the results of the race and Verstappen’s first championship were “valid.” Masi left FIA last summer.
“It’s crazy, very mixed emotions,” Verstappen said during a podium interview Sunday. “Winning the championship, what a year we’ve had. It’s incredible! I’m so thankful to everyone who’s been contributing to the success, the whole team has been working flat out. Beside that, the work we did with Honda every year, constantly improving, gets very emotional especially here. I’m very proud we could do it here.
“The first [championship] is more emotional, but the second is more beautiful.”