Red Bull's Max Verstappen went from confusion to celebration as he clinched a second successive Formula One title on Sunday in a rain-shortened Japanese Grand Prix. The Dutchman crossed the line 27 seconds ahead of Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc, but the Monegasque was handed a five-second penalty after the race for cutting the track while defending from the other Red Bull driver, Sergio Perez, on the final lap.
That dropped Leclerc down to third and sealed Verstappen the title after initial confusion over whether reduced points apply to the race, which ended with 28 of its 53 laps completed. "It's a crazy feeling, of course, as I didn't expect it when I crossed the line," said Verstappen. "Was it going to be half points, I didn't know how many points I was going to get," he added.
The FIA clarified that the reduced points rules – introduced this season – only applied to races that were suspended and could not be resumed.
Japanese Grand Prix: Verstappen crowned world driver champion
The Japanese Grand Prix was restarted after a two-hour halt due to heavy rain and although drivers completed only a little more than half distance, it ran to the end of its time limit with full points awarded.
Verstappen, as a result, leaves Japan with a 113-point margin over Perez, who moved into second in the overall standings. He needed at least a 112-point gap to his closest challenger to be crowned champion on Sunday.
Verstappen's win in Japan was his 12th from 18 races. With four races left, the Dutchman is on course to beat the record for most wins in a season at 13 shared by Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel. It also ended any hope Leclerc, who had led Verstappen by 46 points after three races, still had of becoming Ferrari's first world champion since Kimi Raikkonen in 2007.
"Max has just been incredible," said Leclerc. "It's a title fully deserved. We will try to push over the last four races to improve as a team and hopefully put more of a challenge next year."
Japanese Grand Prix: frantic first lap
Verstappen started Sunday's race from pole. He was beaten off the line by Leclerc, starting alongside, in the wet. But the Red Bull racer went wheel-to-wheel with the Ferrari, spray streaming behind them, through the first two corners and seized back the initiative.
Incidents involving several cars brought out the safety car before the opening lap could be completed, while a recovery vehicle deployed on the track caused alarm as Pierre Gasly's AlphaTauri sped past.
The conditions forced a halt to the race on the second lap and, after the two-hour delay, it resumed with a rolling start, with Verstappen easing away unchallenged at the front, a second a lap quicker than Leclerc and Perez. Behind the top three, Esteban Ocon finished an impressive fourth for Alpine, fending off seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes in fifth.
Japanese Grand Prix: the standings
Sebastian Vettel, on an emotional Suzuka swansong, took sixth, crossing the line almost side-by-side with Alpine's Fernando Alonso. The double-points finish for the French manufacturer moved them back up into fourth ahead of McLaren in the constructors' standings.
George Russell was eighth for Mercedes, ahead of Williams racer Nicholas Latifi, who scored his first points finish of the season with ninth.
Lando Norris rounded out the top 10. AlphaTauri's Gasly was handed a 20-second post-race time penalty for speeding under red flags. He was classified last of the finishers. China's Guanyu Zhou took the fastest lap but wasn't awarded the point on offer as he finished 16th. Ferrari's Carlos Sainz was the major casualty of the opening-lap chaos, the Spaniard sliding across the track and slamming into the barriers.