Max Verstappen said he was able to dominate Formula 1 for years after winning his second consecutive world title at the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday. The Red Bull driver won a dramatic rain-shortened race at Suzuka to claim the championship as closest rival Charles Leclerc was relegated to third with a five-second penalty. The Flying Dutchman said it was a “crazy feeling” to lift the trophy for a second time – and then set his sights on ruling the sport for years to come.
“Having a competitive car I’m confident we can keep this up,” said the 25-year-old, who has won 12 of 18 races this season.
“It also depends on what the competition will come up with. I really believe in this group and I really hope that we can enjoy many more victories and, of course, championships in the coming years.”
Verstappen was only told halfway through the post-race TV interview that he had retained his title, and not even the driver himself was sure.
Ferrari’s Leclerc crossed the line in second ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, but he was awarded a penalty after squeezing Perez into the final chicane and was deemed to have gained an advantage by leaving the track.
“I made a mistake and tried to minimize it,” said Leclerc, who led the championship early in the season. “Huge congratulations to Max and Red Bull. Max has been incredible and it’s a fully deserved title.”
The altered result gave Verstappen an unassailable 113-point lead over Perez and made him only the third driver after Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel to clinch the title with four races to go.
“I was told I was the world champion, we celebrated and then people said to me ‘no, you’re still missing a point’,” he said of the confusion after the race.
“In the end we had enough points, so we were world champions again.”
The Japanese Grand Prix was held for the first time since 2019 due to the pandemic, but the race got off to a chaotic start in torrential rain.
Leclerc was faster off the line than pole-sitter Verstappen, who admitted to having made “a terrible start”, before the Dutchman retook the lead with a brave overtake on the outside of the first corner.
“It was very close, but that’s what people like to see,” he said.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz spun on the first lap and Alex Albon’s Williams broke down leading to a safety car.
A red flag soon followed, forcing the drivers back to the pit lane for nearly two hours.
Verstappen resumed a rolling start ahead of Leclerc and Perez and extended his lead with ease as the safety car dove back into the pits and track conditions began to improve.
“Congratulations to Max, he did exactly what he had to do to win his second title,” said seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who guided Verstappen to the championship under controversial circumstances a year ago.
Verstappen was 46 points behind Leclerc after three races, but dominated by winning 11 of the next 15 Grands Prix. And he is hungry for more.
“I still want to try to win more races because with the car we have now you have to try and capitalize on that because you don’t know if you’ll ever have that again in the next few years.” he said.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner paid tribute. “He’s worn that number one this year, he’s done it with a lot of pride,” he said.
French driver Pierre Gasly reacted furiously after a frightening moment when he nearly hit a tractor on track in the rain and poor visibility early in the race.
Gasly of AlphaTauri said he could have been killed by the vehicle used to recover Sainz’s car.
It brought back painful memories of the tragic 2014 race at Suzuka, when another French driver Jules Bianchi died after colliding with a recovery vehicle in poor conditions.
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