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Formula 1

Rule ‘mistake’ that let Verstappen clinch F1 title will be fixed

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

The mistaken rule that allowed Max Verstappen to seal the 2022 Formula 1 title in the Japanese Grand Prix after all is expected to be altered to avoid a repeat.

A new rule was created for 2022 to ensure an appropriate number of laps must be completed for points to be awarded.

It was in response to half points being given at the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix for a race that featured a grand total of three laps behind the safety car and was only one lap long in the official classification.

On Sunday at Suzuka, poor weather meant the race was suspended, restarted, and barely cleared 50% of the scheduled distance before reaching the three-hour limit that all grands prix are limited by.

The expectation was that this would invoke the new rules for the first time and almost everybody, including Verstappen and his Red Bull team, believed that points would be awarded on a 19-14-12-10-8-6-4-3-2-1 basis because only slightly more than 50% of the race had been completed.

However, the rule in question only outlines what happens if a race is suspended “and cannot be resumed”.

This phrasing is present in previous iterations of the rules too and exists in that form because the only relevant examples in history are races that did not reach the required distance completed because they were red-flagged and never started again.

There has therefore never been a provision for Sunday’s scenario at Suzuka, where the race is suspended, resumed, but only a certain percentage of the scheduled distance could be achieved before the three-hour clock expired.

It meant that full points were awarded in Japan and Verstappen’s 25 points for victory, allied with a post-race penalty for Charles Leclerc dropping him to third after going off-track to stay ahead of Sergio Perez, increased his championship lead by enough to ensure he cannot be caught over the final four events.

Effectively, the rulemakers overlooked a pre-existing problem in writing the new rules.

Si202210090571 News

Many teams have admitted that what happened on Sunday was not the intention of the revised regulations as it means that any number of laps could have been completed at Suzuka and full points would have been awarded – completely defeating the purpose of the post-Spa rule change.

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner admitted it is a mistake and he said he is “certain” this will be revised, possibly in-season by a virtual World Motor Sport Council vote.

“When you read the regulations, what I think was supposed to be fixed following Spa is unspecified in the regs,” said Horner.

“It’s a mistake, after the issues in Spa last year, that the regulations obviously haven’t been mopped up.

“We were under the strong impression that only 75% of the race, full points will be scored.

“We felt we were going to be one point short.

“But in the end, Checo’s move on Charles nailed Max the championship so you can see his surprise, and the team’s surprise. But what a wonderful surprise.”

Nobody has challenged the fact full points were awarded, or the outcome of the race and championship as a result.

Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto said the post-race clarification was “accepted” but admitted to being “confused” at first.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Japanese Grand Prix Race Day Suzuka, Japan

“I need to double check with our sporting guys what was the clear understanding and what has been the conclusion and the way that it has been written and interpreted compared to the intention,” said Binotto.

“It’s a detail and I understand that we need to clarify for the future what is the true intention, what should you do and if it’s clear enough.

“But I’m not too concerned, I’m not too disappointed by it. I accept the way the FIA has interpreted it, and let’s review and discuss it.”

McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl suggested that the post-Spa change had effectively created an unintended “loophole”.

“How the points were awarded today wasn’t what we all had in mind,” he said.

“It wasn’t the intention on the FIA’s side and the teams’ side.

“But it seems like we all overlooked this loophole and therefore we are all responsible for that and it means we want to try to do a better job next time.

“I feel responsible for this as well because in the end we do this read through, each winter, and each team has the opportunity to bring up points which are not clear.

“I was just told that everything we have defined together with the FIA and F1 after Spa is only valid if the race doesn’t finish like normal.

“That’s clearly something therefore we need to look at, if that is the case, and close the loophole if there are any with the interpretations.”

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