Verstappen takes 2nd straight drivers’ title with Japan win

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Max Verstappen holds aloft trophy on the podium during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka, central Japan.AP

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen clinched his second consecutive Formula One drivers’ title by winning the Japanese Grand Prix in the rain at Suzuka on Sunday.

Verstappen has been dominant all season and claimed the title with four races remaining.

The Dutchman started from pole in pouring rain only for the race to be stopped after two laps as several cars crashed. It was resumed two hours later with 28 of the 53 laps completed and Verstappen leading the whole way.

He was followed by teammate Sergio Perez in second and Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc. They were the only drivers who could have overtaken Verstappen for the title.

Verstappen now has an unsurmountable lead with 366 points. Perez has 253 and Leclerc 252.

Verstappen did not know initially that he had won the season title after the shortened race, thinking that the full 25 points for a win would not be awarded. But a short time later, the FIA – F1’s governing body – awarded full points.

And he apologized to the crowd on the track public address system just after the race.

“The championship obviously did not come the way this time around,” he said.

Seconds later, television coverage declared him champion.

At the start, Verstappen took the lead with a risky pass after a slow start but several cars further back lost control including Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who spun and was knocked out.

Organizers stopped the race after two laps. AlphaTaura’s Pierre Gasly complained on his radio that he passed a recovery vehicle that was allowed on to the track shortly after the safety car emerged. This incident apparently came just as the race was red flagged.

This is a sensitive issue in Japan. In 2014, French driver Jules Bianchi collided on the course with a recovery vehicle. He was placed in an induced coma and died nine months later.

After a two-hour delay, the races restarted and Verstappen never looked back, leading the rest of the way.

Associated Press

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