Max Verstappen’s championship defence started badly, but what began as a close fight between him and Charles Leclerc gradually turned into dominance by the Red Bull driver.
It has long been a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’ Verstappen would clinch his second world championship. He eventually did so at Suzuka, albeit in rather unusual circumstances.
Here’s how the newly-crowned two-times world champion saw his season at the time and reflected on his successful campaign afterwards:
Setting the standard
Red Bull revealed the RB18 – the car which took Max Verstappen to his second world championship – on February 9th. At least, they told everyone it was an RB18, but what they actually pulled the covers off was a show car done up in their latest livery.Circuit de Catalunya two weeks later. Once it emerged, it became clear chief technical officer Adrian Newey’s team had devised a characteristically singular approach to the new technical regulations – its distinctively sculpted sidepods the most obvious outward sign of that.
It proved competitive, and in the months that followed it spawned imitators. First Aston Martin and later Williams introduced upgrades featuring remarkably similar lines to the RB18, whether or not they had drawn inspiration from it. Whichever, as the season progressed this proved among the best solutions to the challenges presented by the 2022 rules.
But it wasn’t the only car which showed promise in pre-season testing. Ferrari’s F1-75 was also quick out of the blocks. “They look strong, very solid, they’re quick, you can clearly see that in the long runs and short runs,” was Verstappen’s assessment at the time.
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Ferrari were also quick from the off and at first the red cars were too much for the Red Bulls to contain. Charles Leclerc was already on his way to victory in Bahrain when Verstappen was struck down by a power unit failure.
With last year’s nail-biting championship decider fresh in his memory, Verstappen was acutely aware of the potential damage such a setback could cause even this early in the season. “To lose so many points also for the team is very disappointing because in the championship sometimes it can be really tight to the end. These are very important points.”
But the season-opener also gave the first indication that Verstappen would not face much competition from his 2021 championship rival, Lewis Hamilton. Mercedes’ fears they were well off the pace were born out in Bahrain, and over the following races the scale of the challenge they faced became clear.
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The RB18’s first win
It only took until the second race of the year for Verstappen to deliver on the RB18’s race winning potential. Surprisingly, his teammate Sergio Perez was the first of the pair to claim a pole position, but an early Safety Car robbed him of that advantage.
That left Verstappen and Leclerc in a dogfight for victory in Jeddah. Verstappen prevailed, demonstrating the strong straight-line speed of the RB18 which has been one of its strongest traits all season and allowed him to repeatedly win races without taking pole position.
However Verstappen still wasn’t entirely comfortable in his new car at this stage in the season. “Clearly yesterday I wasn’t very happy and also in the first stint it still wasn’t how I would have liked it to be,” he said after the race. “We’ll have a look but there’s still quite a few things to get on top of because it’s a very new car,” he added.
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The seriousness of Red Bull’s reliability problems became clear at the third race in Australia where Verstappen again retired. “The main low moments were in the beginning of the season with the retirements,” Verstappen reflected after clinching the title. “Because even if you have a little bit of a bad race, you always have to score points and retiring is the worst thing that can happen.”
Leclerc’s second win of the year gave him a 34-point championship lead over George Russell, with Verstappen languishing 46 points in arrears. Even with 19 of the 22 races remaining, he was already casting doubt on his hopes of retaining his crown. But that pessimistic assessment would quickly change.
Home blow for Ferrari
The first sprint race weekend of the year at Imola offered drivers the chance to bag 34 points in a single weekend. Verstappen maximised that opportunity with victories in the sprint race and grand prix, plus the bonus point for fastest lap.
He passed Leclerc to win the former and capitalised when the Ferrari driver’s pursuit of the fastest lap bonus point blew up in his face. Following a late tyre change for soft rubber near the end of the race, Leclerc spun off, throwing precious points away – something Verstappen has largely avoided all year.
“It’s easily done,” Verstappen said of his rival’s mistake. “Of course, he was pushing hard to try and fight Checo, but it is painful but I think he knows that himself, he doesn’t need to hear that. But it’s still such a long championship. You can still gain a lot of points.”
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Taking the lead as Ferrari falter
Verstappen reduced Leclerc’s lead again with victory in Miami but the next round in Spain did not begin well for the Red Bull driver. By lap nine, Leclerc was comfortably leading from pole while Verstappen had run off track into the gravel and fallen to fourth place. What’s more, his DRS wasn’t working properly.
But after that unpromising start he ended the day on top of the championship standings. Leclerc suffered turbo failure in his Ferrari while leading and Perez twice made way for his team mate to help Verstappen take a vital win. Having taken the lead of the points standings, Verstappen would never relinquish it again during the season.
Nonetheless he still felt Red Bull “definitely need to improve” having been compromised by his DRS glitch and seen Ferrari bring an upgrade package for their F1-75. “We need to be better over one-lap performance, especially,” he said. “After this weekend, it shows that with all the upgrades they brought I think they definitely took a step forward. So now it’s up to us to try and close that gap down again.”
Piling up the points
The Canadian Grand Prix was the fifth race in a row where Verstappen outscored Leclerc, who on this occasion had to start at the back of the grid due to a power unit change penalty – a second Ferrari failure in Azerbaijan having made it an inevitability.
With Perez retiring due to technical trouble, Verstappen’s 25-point haul put clear daylight between him and his rivals. He was starting to look unstoppable, even if he wasn’t entirely convinced.
“It’s still a very long way and I know the gap of course is quite big, but I also know that it can switch around very quickly,” he said after the race. “I mean, race three I was 46 behind, so we just need to stay calm, we need to focus, we need to improve, because today we’re not the quickest.”
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Ferrari fightback ends in a barrier
Having seen his 46-point lead reversed into a 49-point deficit in the space of just six races, Leclerc dug deep and fought back over the next two rounds. Even so, the British Grand Prix was a missed opportunity, for having led he fell to fourth after a late Safety Car restart and only took six points off Verstappen, who struggled in a damaged car. In Austria, Leclerc took another five-point nibble out of Verstappen’s lead by winning the grand prix the day after his rival took sprint race honours.
Verstappen won as he pleased, taking back more than twice the points he’d lost over the previous two rounds. He later admitted this was the point at which he began to feel confident he would take the title.
“There were a few moments where I thought we had a good chance of winning it, but I think the moment where I thought now we are going to win it was I think after Paul Ricard where the lead increased by quite a bit,” he said after clinching his second title. “We had a quite competitive car, I knew it was going to be quite close in the coming races but I was like ‘this is a gap which we cannot give away anymore’.”
Advantage Red Bull
For much of the first half of the season, the Ferrari was at least a match for Red Bull in raw performance. But Mercedes weren’t going to remain lost in the tall grass forever, and in Hungary they finally realised some of the promise in their recalcitrant W13. Russell put his on pole position.
In the race, Verstappen worked his way into contention from 10th on the grid while Ferrari couldn’t muster the necessary performance from their F1-75 to keep pace with either of their rival teams. Verstappen was quick enough to win despite spinning, the Mercedes cars filled the other podium places, and a frustrated Leclerc was sixth thanks to his team’s questionable decision to run the hard tyre compound, a move which forced a costly extra pit stop.
It hadn’t been a straightforward weekend for Verstappen, however, as a loss of power compromised his qualifying effort. “It’s a great lead,” said Verstappen, now 80 points ahead of Leclerc. “But we cannot have too many days like we had yesterday. Even today, you know, we had a few little issues with the clutch and the upshifts, which was not great to drive. Overall, of course, it’s good, but we just keep on working, keep on trying to improve things.”
But the wins kept coming for Verstappen in subsequent races, where the performance of the Mercedes further diminished Leclerc’s points-scoring.
Schumacher-esque at Spa
Spa was always expected to be a circuit which would suit the Red Bull, and so it proved. Verstappen would have been on pole position but he, along with almost half the field, collected penalties for component changes. Even so he was widely considered a victory threat from 14th on the grid, one place ahead of Leclerc.
On race day, Verstappen’s progress through the field was absurdly fast. Eighth by the end of lap one, he picked off five cars in three laps for third, and was in the lead and on his way to another win by lap 12. It was a performance which deserved comparison with the sport’s all-time greats.
Verstappen described the weekend as his highlight of the season. “That was just total dominance,” he said. “These kind of weekends, they very rarely happen like that.
“When I came home that night you start to reflect a bit on the weekend and you realise that it was pretty crazy and pretty special.”
Nothing goes right in Singapore night
By round 17, with five still to go, Verstappen had his first opportunity to clinch the title. Yes, he could only do so by winning the Singapore Grand Prix, but as he’d won the last five races in a row that wasn’t unrealistic.
With two corners to go on his qualifying lap Verstappen looked assured of the pole position which tends to preceed victories at the Marina Bay circuit. But to his fury, his team ordered him to abandon the lap and head for the pits, as they hadn’t put enough fuel in his car. He therefore lined up eighth on the grid.
Matters did not improve on race day. Verstappen triggered his anti-stall at the start and fell to 12th, then after patiently working his way forward he locked up while racing Lando Norris and went off track, ruining his tyres and forcing an extra pit stop. From there he could only manage seventh place.
Champion or not?
The championship-deciding race at a soaking wet Suzuka was mired in confusion. It was red-flagged on lap two as rain intensified, and took over two hours to get going again, by which time there was only 40 minutes left for racing.
As little more than half the original distance was covered, the FIA was widely expected to award less than full points. However when they confirmed full points would be given, it meant Verstappen had done enough to secure his second title, even if the driver did not believe that was the case to begin with.
He had produced a virtuoso performance in the soaking conditions, drawing away from pole position as he pleased and finishing 27 seconds up the road from Perez and Leclerc. With his second title locked down, Verstappen could see the amusing side to the season’s shambolic conclusion.
“To be honest, I don’t mind that it was a little bit confusing,” he said, “I find it actually quite funny.
“Because at the end of the day, it’s not going to change, right? The result I mean, when I crossed the line, it was anyway, not enough, even if you would give full points. So, in that scenario it wouldn’t have changed anything.”
But he admitted he had no idea during the race whether he was on course to clinch the championship. “I had no clue what they were going to decide with the points,” said Verstappen. “Of course the main target was to win the race, but once I crossed the line, I was like, ‘okay that was an amazing race, good points again but not world champion yet’.”
It was only during the post-race ceremonies, when a penalty demoted Leclerc to third place behind Perez, that the confirmation of Verstappen’s title was given. “I did my interview after the race and then suddenly my mechanics started to cheer and I was like ‘what’s going on?’
“Then I realised that Checo was second instead of Charles. But I still didn’t know if it was full points or half points or whatever is 75%, I don’t know how you do it.”
Verstappen was eventually persuaded he had, indeed, won the world championship again. “So then we celebrated and then suddenly there was people were telling me no, you’re still missing a point. I was like, ‘ah, that’s amazing’. It’s a bit weird, but then eventually, we had enough points so then we were world champion again.”
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4 comments on “From “low moments” to “funny” points confusion: Verstappen on his path to the title”
Armchair Expert (@armchairexpert)
10th October 2022, 16:21
Are there still any doubters Max is an all-time great already? For me it’s obvious he’s actually the best driver in history (different eras, I know) and you will witness it in years to come. Beating Hamilton’s record of most wins in a season, while never having a car even close to rocketships Hamilton sat in between 2014 and 2021, is truly remarkable and undeniable proof Max is simply better. Ferrari and Mercedes have to build significantly quicker (by at least 0.3s) cars to have a chance of beating Max, he’s that stunningly quick and consistent. The real GOAT.
11th October 2022, 12:19
I think Max is better than Vettel. But some could argue Seb isn’t an all time great. And if you look at his years after 2013
you can understand that. Which is why I think it’s difficult to explain why in 2022 Max should be considered an all-time great while 2011 Seb isn’t. Both had astonishing drives (Brazil 2016 vs Monza 2008 to name a few) before taking their first title in a hardfought fight with an established legend (Alonso vs Hamilton) and dominating the season after.
I’m not saying Max isn’t an all time great. Just saying that that’s something that’ll be easier to say in a couple of years.
11th October 2022, 17:45
It’s a tricky idea that if you’re considered the best or one of the best you always have to deliver and no matter what maintain top-class performance. Just look at tennis players. All they have is talent, their body and racket. Almost no dependence on technology. Pure sport. And yet they have years of glory ups and painy downs. How many times has Djokovic lose against Nadal? And how many times has won? It’s 29-30. There are years of Nadal dominance and there are years of Djokovic non-stop wins. And don’t forget about Federer. No Grand Slam wins between 2012 and 2017. Sometimes they lose against no-name players. In F1 the crowd adores you but quickly dismisses you in case of weak performance.
10th October 2022, 16:57
During this season the both cars/brands were on par. Some better on tracks then the other, but very close.
Ferrari lost by: mistakes by Charles, unbelievable choices in strategy, reliability.
RBR won by hard work, briljant driving by max and some checos and an excellent car design.
The “gains” people like to see at Mercedes do not exist. Even hungary was mostly luck . The expensive step in changing the design early in the year and keeping updating a sinking ship did not help.
Comments are closed.