Max Verstappen has his second chance to seal his second Formula 1 title with a few races to spare at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.
His first opportunity in Singapore went badly wrong after errors from driver and his Red Bull team in both qualifying and the race left him heading to Suzuka with longer odds of securing the 2022 title on Honda’s home soil than they first appeared.
Had he won in Singapore, he would likely only have needed to finish on the podium at Suzuka even if either of the only two other drivers in contention – Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez – were to win in Japan.
But because of his seventh-place finish in Singapore while Perez and Leclerc finished first and second, things are trickier this weekend for Verstappen, who has to finish ahead of Leclerc and Perez to win the title.
There will be 112 points on the table after the Japanese GP weekend and Verstappen currently has 104 on Leclerc and 106 on Perez.
So, Verstappen could win the Japanese GP and take the fastest lap point and that would bring his advantage over Leclerc to 112.
That would mean even if after Suzuka, Leclerc was to win all of the remaining four grands prix, the Interlagos sprint race and scoop the four fastest lap bonus points, he’d lose the championship on countback to Verstappen, who has far more race wins.
Winning at Suzuka alone won’t be enough for Verstappen if Leclerc is second. This doesn’t apply to Perez, who can’t afford to drop more than five points to his team-mate if he’s to remain in mathematical contention.
Of the 11 races where Verstappen has taken victory in 2022, he’s taken the fastest lap in four of them.
If Verstappen wins without securing the fastest lap bonus point, he needs Leclerc to finish third or lower. This has occurred eight times during Verstappen’s 11 wins this year.
If Verstappen finishes second at Suzuka with the bonus point, he needs Leclerc to finish outside of the top four.
Verstappen has only finished second once this season in Austria, where Leclerc took his most recent victory.
If Verstappen finishes second he will also need Perez to finish outside of the top four or in fourth place without the fastest lap bonus point.
If Verstappen is in third position – as has happened only once in 2022, in Monaco – he’ll require Leclerc to finish outside of the top six or take sixth and not the fastest lap while he’ll need Perez outside of the top five.
Should Verstappen finish fourth, he’ll need Leclerc and Perez to finish outside of the top seven or the latter in sixth but without the extra point.
Verstappen can also win by finishing fifth, but he’d need Leclerc to be 10th or lower or to finish ninth without the fastest lap bonus point.
Sixth is the lowest Verstappen can seal the title from but he’d need Leclerc to not score and Perez to score less than two points.
Verstappen, Leclerc and Perez have won all but one of the races in 2022 and the only one they didn’t win (when Carlos Sainz won at Silverstone), the highest of them, Perez, was second.
So, in reality the permutations most likely to be required are what happens if Verstappen wins or finishes second.
He has to finish ahead of both Leclerc and Perez and it’s highly unlikely he’ll be able to do so if he finishes any lower than second.
So, here’s a condensed recap of the permutations of how Verstappen can seal the title.
Verstappen’s most likely routes to the title at Suzuka
If Verstappen wins with the FL bonus point, he will be champion…
– Regardless of where Leclerc and Perez finish
If Verstappen wins with no FL bonus point, he will be champion if…
– Leclerc and Perez finish lower than third
If Verstappen finishes second with the FL bonus point, he will be champion if…
– Leclerc finishes fifth or lower
– Perez finishes fourth or lower
If Verstappen finishes second without the FL bonus point, he will be champion if…
– Leclerc finishes lower than fifth or fifth without the bonus point
– Perez finishes lower than fourth or fourth without the bonus point