During post-race interviews following the rain-delayed Japanese Grand Prix, Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen was told repeatedly that he had won his second world championship, which he vehemently denied, and he wasn’t the only one confused: Most teams – and many of the commenters – had no idea what had just happened. It all boils down to a loophole in the rules.
The start of the Japanese GP was wet and the drivers were able to complete just two laps before the race was red flagged due to unsafe conditions. The lengthy suspension led many to think the race was only eligible for half points thanks to regulatory changes that were introduced after the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, where drivers completed just two laps behind the safety car before the race be announced and points awarded. So, it looked like something similar was going to happen in Suzuka.
Had that 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 5.b states: “If a race is suspended, the duration of the suspension will be added to that period up to a maximum total race time of three (3) hours.”
In the past, F1 rules required an extra lap to be taken after the race reached its time limit – but this was only for the two-hour time limit, not the three-hour time limit. As this year’s Japanese GP hit that three-hour time limit for the broadcast window, the race was over quickly.
There was also confusion about how the points are awarded. The general belief was that the shortened race would result in fewer points being awarded. Instead, the FIA interpreted the rule to mean that because the race was restarted and subsequently reached the three-hour time limit, it counted for full points – even if only part of the race’s scheduled distance was completed. And when Charles Leclerc received a five-second post-race penalty, he was ultimately kicked out of championship contention, allowing Verstappen to take the Suzuka crown.
It’s undoubtedly confusing, which was evident by the fact that most commentators, fans, media and teams literally had no idea what was going on after the race was over. As mentioned earlier, even Verstappen was shocked to learn that he had won the championship.
As a result, a lot teams admitted they should have read the rules more carefully and asked for 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 implemented until it goes into effect. In this case, it just happened to decide a championship.