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The Loophole That Enabled Max Verstappen to Win His Second Formula 1 Championship, Explained

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Photo: Mark Thompson (Getty Images)

During post-race interviews after the rain-delayed Japanese Grand Prix, Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen was told multiple times that he had won his second World Championship, which he adamantly denied, and he wasn’t the only person confused: Most teams — and plenty of the commentators — had no idea what had just happened. It all comes down to a loophole in the rules.

The start of the Japanese GP was a wet one, and drivers were only able to complete two laps before the race was red-flagged due to unsafe conditions. The lengthy stoppage had many folks thinking the race was only eligible for half-points thanks to regulatory changes that had been enacted after 2021’s Belgian Grand Prix, where drivers only completed two laps behind the safety car before the race was called and points were awarded. So, it seemed that something similar would take place in Suzuka.

If that had been the case, Verstappen would have been one point shy of securing his second World Championship — but the FIA opted for a rather strict interpretation of its own rules.

F1 rule Article 5.b reads: “Should the race be suspended, the length of the suspension will be added to this period up to a maximum total race time of three (3) hours.”

In the past, F1 regulations required an additional lap to be run after the race hit its time limit — but that was only for the two-hour time limit, not the three-hour time limit. Because this year’s Japanese GP hit that three-hour time limit for the broadcast window, the race was ended quickly.

There was also confusion about the way points were handed out. Common belief was that a shortened race would result in the distribution of a smaller number of points. Instead, the FIA interpreted the rule to mean that, because the race had been restarted and subsequently hit the three-hour time limit window, it counted for full points — even if only a fraction of the intended race distance had been completed. And, when Charles Leclerc was given a five-second penalty after the race, he was ultimately pushed out of contention for the championship, enabling Verstappen to take the crown in Suzuka.

It is undoubtedly confusing, which was obvious due to the fact that most commentators, fans, media, and teams had literally no idea what was happening after the race had concluded. As mentioned before, even Verstappen was shocked to learn he’d won the championship.

In the aftermath, many teams have admitted that they should have more closely read the rulebook and demanded clearer rules regarding red-flagged and subsequently restarted races. However, this is definitely one of those situations where you can’t know exactly how a rule will be applied until it comes into play. In this case, it just so happened to decide a championship.

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