Max Verstappen admitted he had no idea he had taken his second Formula One world championship as confusion rather than celebration characterised his title-winning victory at the Japanese Grand Prix.
Red Bull’s Verstappen won the race at Suzuka, truncated to 28 laps after it had been delayed for over two hours due to rain, but did not know he had done enough to secure the championship until some time after climbing from his car.
Verstappen took it well, laughing off criticism that the regulations were far from clear. “To be honest I don’t mind that it was a little bit confusing, I find it quite funny,” he said.
Across the paddock no one was quite sure whether full points would be awarded for the race or only three-quarters. The latter would not have been enough to ensure Verstappen had won and even his team were not aware, holding back on celebrating the title.
The 25-year-old, now joining a unique club of multiple world champions, was as uncertain as the rest of the paddock. “When I crossed the line I didn’t believe that we would have won the title because I also didn’t know if we’re going to get full points or not,” he said. “I don’t think everyone was 100% sure at the end.”
The FIA’s regulations had, apparently, left even the finest thinkers in F1’s teams at a loss. “During the race I had no clue what they were going to decide with the points,” said Verstappen. “The plan was to win the race but once I crossed the line I didn’t know if it was full points, half points or 75% points because you’re reading through the rules.”
With the confirmation that full points would be awarded because the race had run to the flag, albeit not to full distance, Verstappen finally, after some more to and fro, was persuaded he had won the title.
“Tom [Wood, FIA media delegate] came to me and said that I was world champion,” he said. “Then suddenly people were saying: ‘No, you still need a point’. So it was a bit weird but eventually we had enough points so then we were world champion again.”
The Dutchman has won 12 from 18 races this season, wrapping it up with four meetings remaining, a dominant display he acknowledged would be hard to repeat and that he recognised as a greater achievement than the first title he claimed last season.
“It’s been a very enjoyable year and a very special year, which will be very hard in the future to match,” he said. “The first one is always the most emotional but this one is definitely the better one, just in terms of performance.”
Concerns remain for his Red Bull team however with the FIA set to announce the results of their assessment of all of the F1 teams’ compliance with the 2021 budget cap on Monday. Red Bull face unproven allegations of breaching the £114m cap, a claim they strenuously deny. If they have been found to have done so they will face penalties as far reaching as to potentially affect last year’s championship result.