By MARK LORENZANA
After taking the checkered flag in the Singaporean Grand Prix, Mexican Formula 1 (F1) driver Sergio “Checo” Pérez settled for second place at the Suzuka Circuit for the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday, Oct. 9.
The Japanese Grand Prix was a messy and confusing affair, to put it lightly. Early on, the rain-shortened race knocked out Ferrari racer Carlos Sainz Jr.’s car from contention when he spun on the slick pavement and crashed. Chinese driver Zhou Guanyu of Alfa Romeo likewise had a dramatic spin but was able to continue.
Pérez’s Red Bull teammate, Max Verstappen, not only took first place in Japan, but was also crowned F1 World Champion this early, with four more stops to go in this year’s F1 race calendar: the United States Grand Prix, the Mexico City Grand Prix, the São Paulo Grand Prix and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Verstappen is now a two-time F1 World Champion, and Red Bull is currently leading the World Constructors’ Championship.
Verstappen, initially, did not know if he would earn the full points to capture his second driver’s championship. There was confusion at end of the race amid uncertainty over whether full or partial points would be awarded for the race that was cut short from the original scheduled 53 laps to 29.
With between 50 percent and 75 percent of the laps completed, majority of the teams — and even Verstappen himself — believed that the Dutchman would only be awarded 19 points for his victory. But for the people behind the Japanese Grand Prix, there was a different interpretation of the rules, which state that the reduced points are only applied if a race is suspended “and cannot be resumed.”
“The championship obviously did not come the way this time around,” Verstappen initially said after climbing from his car following his 12th win of the season. He even apologized to the crowd on the track’s public-address system.
Seconds later, crew members and friends told him that he was, indeed, a two-time world champion.
“Once I crossed the line I thought: ‘It was an amazing race, good points again. But I’m not world champion yet,’” said Verstappen. “Looking back, what a year we’ve had so far. It’s been incredible. It’s something I could never have imagined. After last year, fighting until the end, and then having such a good car again this year. I’m so thankful to everyone who has been contributing to this success.”
Meanwhile, Pérez complained on his Twitter account after the race of a recovery vehicle that was improperly parked on the track as the safety car emerged just as the race was red-flagged.
“How can we make it clear that we never want to see a crane on track? We lost Jules because of that mistake. What happened today is totally unacceptable! I hope this is the last time ever I see a crane on track!” Checo tweeted.
Pérez was referring to French driver Jules Bianchi who, in 2014, collided with a recovery vehicle on the same Suzuka track. Bianchi was placed in an induced coma and died nine months later.
Scuderia AlphaTauri racer Pierre Gasly, who was a close friend of Bianchi, could also be heard complaining on his radio as he passed the crane.
“What is this tractor on track? I passed next to it,” Gasly said to his team. “This is unacceptable. Remember what has happened. I can’t believe this.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was also incensed. “We lost Jules Bianchi here and that should never, ever happen, so there needs to be a full investigation as to why there was a recovery vehicle on the circuit,” he said.
Even Bianchi’s father, Philippe, chimed in with an Instagram post. “No respect for the life of the driver, no respect for Jules’ memory. Incredible,” he wrote.