There was a lot of confusion over whether Verstappen had indeed won the championship or not due to the race being red flagged at the beginning with a large gap before the drivers were able to race again. Verstappen was told multiple times during post-race interviews that he had won his second World Championship, but he was just as confused as a lot of the teams and commentators and denied it. However, it has been confirmed that Verstappen did take the win and it is down to a loophole within the rules.
The Japanese GP started in the rain which led to a dramatic first couple of laps. Carlos Sainz aquaplaned in his Ferrari and crashed into a barrier, damaging an advertising board on his way which ended up flying into the front of Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri. Sainz had to retire from the race with the damage to his car, as well as Alex Albon who had power unit issues with his Williams.
There was a yellow flag due to Sainz’s crash which shortly changed to a red flag due to the weather. The race was then delayed for such a long time that it made a lot of teams, commentators and spectators believe that the race would only be eligible for half-points as the drivers were not able to complete the original total number of laps due to the time limit. If it had only been half-points, Verstappen would have been one point off winning the World Championship.
The Japanese GP ended quickly due to the clock starting when the initial two laps were completed before the red flag and according to the F1 rule Article 5b, the race had to end due to the maximum race time being three hours:
“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.”
The FIA took the rule to mean that as the race had been restarted and then reached the three hour time limit, full points would be counted. In order to take the win, Verstappen needed to come first and for Charles Leclerc to not come second. Leclerc and Sergio Perez had a fantastic battle for second place during the last few laps of the race and at the last corner, Leclerc braked too late and ended up cutting the corner. Although he was already in front so did not go ahead of Perez, the FIA ruled that he took an advantage so he was given a five second time penalty, putting him into third place, which enabled Verstappen to take the championship.
Many teams have explained since the race that they should have asked for a more clear explanation of how the rules would have be interpreted so that they could prepare for the correct point system.