F1’s Japanese Grand Prix: Raining, Aquaplaning & Entertaining
The Japanese Grand Prix was chaotic with drama both on and off the track, but ultimately leading to a series overall victory for RedBull Racing's Max Verstappen.
After a race delay due to the rain, conditions cleared up enough for a standing start – but despite the hold on the stabilized conditions, race start found top contender and Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz aquaplaning and crashing in the opening lap along with drivers Sebastian Vettel and Zhou Guanyu who also found themselves losing control of their cars resulting in a red flag.
Adding to the drama as cars migrated to the pits to recover, one of the recovery vehicles made its way onto the track while the race was still in process – unbeknownst to the drivers on the track – as evidenced by Alphatauri’s Pierre Gasly making his way towards the safety car when suddenly he was confronted with the unexpected, having the narrowly miss the recovery vehicle.
"I passed next to it. This is unacceptable. Remember what happened. Can't believe this! We don't want to see ever, a crane on the track," Gasly’s shock-and-awe was heard across the team radio. The driver speaks from experience. During his second year of racing in 2014, on the same Suzuka track, Gasly witnessed firsthand the tragic accident that shocked the racing community when Frenchman Jules Bianchi died from fatally colliding into a recovery vehicle on track in wet conditions not unlike Sunday’s race.
Despite Gasly’s protest, the FIA found him at fault for driving in excess speed in the conditions and given a penalty, a ruling that angered most of the other drivers after release.
After a two-hour delay, the race was against the clock versus laps with 45 minutes of racing ahead. Cars replaced their wet tires with intermediates and the pressure was on to for the remaining race. An impressive feat for Esteban Ocon, retaining his P4 position despite pressure from behind from seven-time world champion Sir Lewis Hamilton.
Meanwhile in the positions ahead, another battle was brewing. With Sainz crashing out of P3, Red Bull’s Sergio Perez a step up into P3 for the restart led to a fierce battle between Perez and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc for the entirety of the race for P2. Leclerc was pushed to his limits as Perez applied the pressure – and Leclerc lost the position due to a call from the stewards on the final lap due to leaving the track on a chicane and gained an advantage. He was given a five-second penalty and P2 was awarded to Perez.
Due to the myriad of complicated rules, regulations and results, Verstappen was given the points needed to be awarded the 2022 World Champion, a title he won in the previous season also under controversy due to calls made by the stewards during the race.
“I think the first one is always a little more emotional, but the second one is probably even more beautiful, just the season we’ve had with the wins and the great races and the teamwork,” Verstappen said, clearly getting comfortable in his titling of World Champion and acknowledging the journey the Red Bull Racing team has been on this season.
Now, with only four races to go, the constructor’s championship is the focus of what’s left, and yet to be determined.
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