What Suzuka Taught Us About The State Of Modern F1

What Suzuka Taught Us About The State Of Modern F1
By Eoin Harrington Updated
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F1 saw its world championship wrapped up at the conclusion of Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix, on what should have been a historic and memorable day for the newly-crowned double champ Max Verstappen.

Instead, Verstappen was robbed of the traditional coronation excitement by confusion over the rules, and a hastily applied time penalty for his rival Charles Leclerc.

It was a race that saw a two-hour rain delay (after a questionable decision to start the race in the first place), a shameful disregard for driver safety, complete confusion over the most basic of rules in the sport, against the backdrop of a bewildering delay in the ongoing cost cap investigation.

On a weekend that should have been memorable for the triumph of Max Verstappen, F1 showed the worst of its bureaucracy and issues in 2022.

Japanese F1 GP: Questions asked after a farcical weekend

F1 entered the Japanese Grand Prix weekend hoping for a dramatic conclusion to the year's world championship. Max Verstappen has had this title won for weeks now, but was on the verge of putting himself mathematically out of reach of rivals Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez ahead of the race at Suzuka.

Come race day, and Verstappen was on pole - but it was raining hard at the Japanese track. Clearly fearing a repeat of last year's farce at Spa, or the recent rain delays at Singapore, the F1 authorities decided to get the race underway. A brief look at the onboard footage from the opening lap shows that, in hindsight, this left the drivers dealing with remarkable levels of spray. In the below video, there is a point coming out of the first bend where Lance Stroll's onboard camera cannot even see the track below the car.

Alex Albon spoke after the race and said that the conditions at the race start were the worst he had experienced in any series across his racing career, saying the race should not have gotten underway with the visibility so poor.

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The slippery conditions caused the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz to spin off and smash into the barriers just after the hairpin, and the safety car was deployed, before the scariest moment of the weekend - and, in honesty, the season.

Pierre Gasly was understandably livid when he spotted a tractor recovering Sainz's Ferrari at the last second as he passed the recovery vehicle. The tractor was sitting on the racing line with no illumination, on a dark and misty track as the rain continued to fall.

The fact that Gasly may or may not have been going too fast is irrelevant - there is no circumstance in which a recovery vehicle should be on an F1 track while cars are still moving around the track.

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This is the circuit where we tragically lost Jules Bianchi in 2014, when he slid off the track in similar conditions and collided with a recovery vehicle. Mistakes were made then which had horrific consequences - and which the FIA clearly have not learned from.

In Turkey in 2020, a recovery vehicle was still on track when the second qualifying session got underway, sitting on the outside of the fastest corner on the circuit in slippery conditions. Earlier this season, a tractor reversed against the oncoming traffic on the inside of Monza's fast Lesmo corners while recovering Daniel Ricciardo's McLaren.

Both of those were unacceptable encroachments on driver safety - but to put a tractor on the circuit at a time when drivers were complaining of awful visibility, at a corner where a driver had just lost control due to the conditions, was a decision that could have had fatal consequences, as Gasly himself said when he returned to the pitlane.

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Gasly was not the only driver to pass the tractor, but he was detached from the rest of the pack, and so was going faster than others. Nonetheless, the rest of the F1 grid were understandably livid in the direct aftermath of the race.

Charles Leclerc, in the aftermath of losing out on his world championship bid, was visibly emotional when discussing the incident. Bianchi was Leclerc's godfather, and the painful memories of 2014 were all too evident as he slammed the decision to send out a recovery vehicle on the circuit.

The most impactful post was from the father of the late Jules Bianchi, who shared a still of the view from Gasly's car with the caption:

No respect for the life of the driver no respect for Jules memory incredible

This was one of F1's ugliest moments. It may have been an honest mistake to send the vehicle out on track, and perhaps they thought the presence of a safety car on track would mitigate the risk.

In all honesty, it doesn't matter. In conditions such as those we experienced on Sunday, there's no excuse for taking any form of risk with driver safety. The fact that this all happened at Suzuka, the site of that awful day in 2014, is a sad coincidence - but beside the point. This should never happen, anywhere, and the fact that it was allowed to in any way, shape or form is deeply concerning.

The emotion from all of the drivers on the F1 grid in discussing this incident shows that they understand the danger of what happened at Suzuka on Sunday. Lessons have to be learned, and fast.

The race was red flagged shortly after the incidents involving Sainz and Gasly, and would not get underway again for the best part of two hours, by which time there was less than an hour of time left under the regulations to complete the race (another argument against starting the race when they did is that they wouldn't have been penned in by the three-hour time limit, and we might have gotten a full 53-lap race).

After the restart, the GP was largely without incident until the closing laps, as Sergio Perez closed on Charles Leclerc for P2. The understanding that the Sky F1 commentators, F1 fans, and even Red Bull and Max Verstappen were operating under was that full points would not be awarded and that, even if Leclerc was passed by Perez, it would not be enough to seal the title for Max this time around.

That was, until the drivers crossed the line and parked their cars in parc fermé. The order in which they finished was Verstappen - Leclerc - Perez, with most if not all believing that that would leave Verstappen three points short of sealing the title. Normally, the top three receive 25, 18, and 15 points respectively but, as the race did not run to full distance, the reduced points of 19 - 14 - 12 were expected to be awarded.

That was until a clarification arrived that full points were in fact to be awarded. And that Leclerc had received a five second penalty for blocking Perez at the final corner. Meaning that, in actuality, Verstappen had done enough, and was 2022 world champion.

The fact that even the teams themselves were unaware of the exact nature of the rules that made Max a two time F1 champion is an indictment of how they were worded, and the icing on the farcical cake that was the 2022 Japanese Grand Prix.

Even Verstappen himself appeared to be in denial that he had been crowned champion.

This is one of the best, if not the best track on the calendar, returning after three years out. This was an historic weekend where one of the greatest individual F1 seasons in modern history from Max Verstappen deserved to be celebrated.

But, with an ongoing investigation looming in the background, and an apparent disregard for driver safety on display from those in charge, this was sadly a weekend to forget for F1.

Wrapping up from the Japanese Grand Prix

Position Driver Team Points Race wins
1st Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing-RBPT 366 12 (+2 sprint wins)
2nd Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing-RBPT 253 2
3rd Charles Leclerc Scuderia Ferrari 252 3
4th George Russell Mercedes AMG F1 207 0
5th Carlos Sainz Jr Scuderia Ferrari 202 1
  • Driver of the day: Sebastian Vettel is close to claiming our gong for a second consecutive week but, for the fact that he kept his head down through the chaos and delivered his most dominant win of the season in claiming the championship, Max Verstappen deserves this. Head and shoulders above the rest in 2022, and a fully deserving two-time world champion.
  • Day to forget: The FIA and all those in charge of running F1, for the reasons detailed above.
  • The big question ahead of round #19: Will we have any more race winners? It is now three months since anyone other than Red Bull won a race, with Ferrari's back to back wins in early July feeling like a distant memory now. Will they claim another P1 before the season is out, or can Mercedes sneak in for their maiden win of the season?

SEE ALSO: Sebastian Vettel Leaves Door Open To F1 Return

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