Max Verstappen clinched the 2022 Formula 1 World Championship by winning a shortened Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka after heavy rain caused a two-hour red flag period.
Charles Leclerc fended off Sergio Perez on the final lap to finish second on the road in the 40-minute encounter, initially denying Verstappen an early chance to wrap up the title.
But, by leaving the track at the chicane in the final moments, Leclerc was handed a time 5s time penalty and demoted to third.
With full points being awarded, Red Bull Racing’s Verstappen was therefore announced as champion before the podium ceremony.
Rain and chaos brings proceedings to an early halt
The race originally started on a wet track, with all drivers on intermediate tyres, but the rain immediately began to intensify when the lights went out.
Verstappen was briefly beaten away from pole by Ferrari’s Leclerc, but regained the advantage into turn one, while Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel spun off after making contact with Fernando Alonso.
Sainz lost third to Red Bull’s Perez, but the Ferrari driver then aquaplaned into the barriers later in the lap, with an advertising hoarding thrown into the path of Pierre Gasly, who was forced to pit for a new front wing.
Williams driver Alexander Albon also pulled off the circuit with a mechanical issue, with the safety car deployed. The race was then swiftly halted due to the deteriorating conditions.
Before the cars had returned to the pits, a tractor came onto the track to recover Sainz’s car, with AlphaTauri’s Gasly driving past the scene at racing speed as he tried to catch the safety car train.
Understandably, Gasly was furious on returning to the pits, on a circuit where Jules Bianchi ultimately lost his life after crashing into a recovery vehicle in 2014. The Frenchman was however summoned to the stewards for driving too quickly under red flag conditions.
Verstappen wins restarted race as battle rages behind
Following a two-hour delay, the race resumed behind the safety car with 40 minutes of the allotted three-hour period remaining. With all drivers now running full wet tyres, most of the field quickly headed to the pits after the green flags were waved.
Alpine’s Alonso briefly led from Daniel Ricciardo before the pair headed for the pitlane. Mick Schumacher, the last driver to stay out on full wets, then led before he was passed on track by Verstappen.
The Dutchman then pulled clear as Leclerc was briefly held up by the Haas driver before moving up to second. Schumacher eventually switched to inters, having slipped out of the top ten.
Verstappen continued to pull clear, eventually winning by almost 27s, as Perez closed in on Leclerc for second.
The battle went down to the final lap, with Leclerc sliding off the road at the chicane, and then squeezing the Mexican racer on returning to track and remaining ahead.
Title decided in bizarre circumstances
With 16th-placed finisher Guanyu Zhou taking the fastest lap, Verstappen was unable to claim what appeared to be a crucial extra point in deciding the title.
But, when Leclerc was demoted to third behind Perez in Parc Ferme, it didn’t matter, with Verstappen announced as champion after conducting a television interview.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon headed off Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton for fourth. Vettel passed Alonso for sixth on the final lap, with George Russell close behind in eighth for Mercedes.
Nicholas Latifi scored points for Williams in ninth, 0.6s clear of McLaren’s Lando Norris. The Briton’s team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was a further 2s behind, with Aston’s Lance Stroll 12th ahead of Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri), Kevin Magnussen (Haas) and Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo).
Schumacher and Gasly were the other finishers behind Zhou in 17th and 18th, Gasly having been handed a 20s time penalty post-race for speeding under red flags.
Featured image credit: formula1.com