The Red Bull driver was declared the winner of the rain-shortened race amid confusion over the rules governing the awarding of points in the rain. The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, the sport’s governing body, determined that full points, rather than the partial points that teams expected, could be awarded as the race resumed after a two-hour delay, although that it was finally cut short. That gave Verstappen a 113-point lead with just 112 points possible from the last four races.
Verstappen got an assist to win the title when rival Charles Leclerc cut the final corner under pressure from team-mate Sergio Perez. Leclerc took a five-second penalty that dropped him to third place.
The delay in the FIA’s final determination left Verstappen, who won his 12th race of the season, initially thinking the championship would have to wait until next weekend’s race in Austin. “The championship obviously didn’t happen this time around,” he said, according to The Associated Press, apologizing to the crowd over the PA system.
His skepticism persisted even as his crew rushed to give him a hug, with drivers believing only partial points would be awarded for the race. “Once I crossed the line, I was like, ‘It was an amazing race, still some good points, but I’m not world champion yet,'” he said later.
Verstappen had started from pole in the pouring rain, but the race was quickly suspended due to an accident involving the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz. Cars were driving behind the safety car before the recovery vehicle was released onto the track. Drivers questioned why the recovery vehicle came out with the track so slippery and the FIA said it would investigate the matter. Two hours later the race resumed but only 28 of the 53 laps were completed, with Verstappen in the lead all the way.
Yet Verstappen was one of the last to realize he had won the title, repeatedly asking despite his league title, “have I or haven’t I [wrapped up the title]in another post-race interview, according to CNN. “I hear different things.”
With confirmation, he sat before a “world champion” banner, his second championship capping a dominant season that marked a transition in the sport. With one more victory, the 25-year-old Dutch driver would equal the single-season record set by Michael Schumacher in 2004 and equaled by Sebastian Vettel in 2013.
Last December Verstappen edged out Lewis Hamilton for the championship in even more chaotic and controversial circumstances, robbing Hamilton of his record eighth title by overtaking him on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. During this 2021 season finale, race director Michael Masi’s decisions following a late safety car period were to restart the race with one lap remaining, but he partly ignored the regulations of the FIA by doing them. This allowed Verstappen to overtake Hamilton on the final lap of the race, causing confusion and acrimony from Hamilton’s Mercedes team and many observers.
An FIA investigation later determined that “human error” was a factor in the controversial finish, but found the race results and Verstappen’s maiden championship to be “valid”. Masi left the FIA last summer.
“It’s crazy, very mixed emotions,” Verstappen said in a podium interview on Sunday. “Winning the championship, what a year we’ve had. It’s incredible! I am so grateful to everyone who contributed to the success, the whole team worked so hard. Next to that, the work we have done with Honda every year, constantly improving, becomes very moving, especially here. I am very proud that we can do it here.
“The first one [championship] is more emotional but the second is more beautiful.