Max Verstappen won a second title in exceptional conditions after dominating a Japanese Grand Prix cut short by heavy rain.
Verstappen headed Sergio Perez in a Red Bull one-two after Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who crossed the line second, was penalized for cutting the track and gained a last-lap advantage.
There was confusion after the race as to whether Verstappen had done enough to tie the championship, because it was not immediately clear whether full points would be awarded for a race that ran just over half the distance.
However, the FIA governing body said the reduced points only applied if a race that had been suspended could not be continued.
Even Verstappen asked: “Are you sure?” when told he was a champion, reflecting historical precedent that reduced points are awarded in such circumstances.
But it appears that this protocol was accidentally left out of the rules when they were rewritten last winter after the controversial Belgian Grand Prix, when a result was announced despite no races being run.
However, there can be no question marks over Verstappen’s championship validity after securing his 12th win of the season in the same way he took control of the championship, being a class apart from everyone at his Red Bull. car.
The race was marred by a controversy over officials deploying a recovery vehicle on track while the cars were still running after a crash on the first lap.
Drivers and team bosses united to call the decision by race control “unacceptable”, eight years after Jules Bianchi was killed in a tractor crash at the track
The race was abandoned shortly thereafter, leading to a two-hour delay while officials waited for the persistent rain to ease enough for the race to resume.
When it finally did, Verstappen and Leclerc initially pulled away from the rest of the pack, but as the laps ticked by Ferrari’s tire problems reared their heads.
Leclerc got away from Verstappen and Perez started to roll in the Ferrari. Leclerc held him off for several laps and looked like he had done enough, only to close at the final chicane on the final lap and cut the corner.
Leclerc kept Perez off the line but was deemed to have gained an advantage by going off track and was relegated back.
Behind them, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon held off Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes for the entire race, with Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel doing the same to Fernando Alonso’s Alpine.
Alonso made a pit stop for fresh tires with just 15 minutes of the race remaining and dropped to ninth, making up enough ground to finish the race right on Vettel’s tail, but could not get past.
Mercedes’ George Russell moved up to eighth from 13th after he was delayed to pile up behind Hamilton in the pits when the field changed from wet to intermediate tires and in the final points to Williams’ Nicolas Latifi and McLaren’s Lando Norris.
More to come.