Max Verstappen wrapped up his second straight Formula One drivers’ title with a win at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka on Sunday as a bizarre circumstance after the race gave him the trophy.
Verstappen won the rain-shortened race, picking up his 12th victory of the F1 season. But he was informed he won the championship after F1 officials penalized Charles Leclerc after the race.
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The Red Bull racer initially apologized for not wrapping up the title when he got out of the cockpit but seconds later he was mobbed by his team once it was realized that he had won the drivers’ title.
“Once I crossed the line I thought: ‘It was an amazing race, good points again. But I’m not world champion yet,’” Verstappen said.
Verstappen’s season has been a little different than last year. In 2021, the drivers’ championship came down to the very last race of the season in Abu Dhabi. He and Lewis Hamilton had a competitive final race but it was the Dutchman who picked up the victory in the end.
MAX VERSTAPPEN'S WINNING WAYS CONTINUE AT ITALIAN GRAND PRIX, CLOSES IN ON F1 POINTS TITLE
Verstappen’s first win came in the second race of the season in Saudi Arabia. But in the summer, he failed to reach the podium in Britain and only finished in second place to Leclerc in Austria. After that second-place finish, Verstappen went on a tear, winning five races in a row before Sergio Perez won in Singapore.
In Japan, Leclerc’s post-race penalty gave Verstappen the championship.
“So then we had enough points, so we were world champions again. It’s a great feeling, but when I crossed the line I didn’t believe that we would have won the title right there,” he said.
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There are still four races remaining in the Formula One season. The circuit heads to the Circuit of the Americas for the U.S. Grand Prix in Texas in a few weeks before going to Mexico and Brazil, and then wrapping the year in Abu Dhabi.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.