It was a chaotic race, slowed by rain and then restarted, before the chaos continued afterwards with confusion reigning over whether Verstappen defended his title.
For much of the race, it appeared as if the Red Bull driver would be forced to wait until the next grand prix in Austin to secure the drivers’ title for the second time in his career when the race was red-sided due to rain.
When the race restarted it was much shortened, apparently leaving fewer points available, and with Verstappen’s rival Charles Leclerc crossing the line in second, he seemed mathematically still in the title race.
So when Verstappen finished, he initially just celebrated a race win – his 12th of the season – and completed his first post-race interview accordingly.
But Ferrari’s Leclerc cut the final corner, under pressure from Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez, and incurred a five-second time penalty after the race ended, ending his title challenge.
“Do I or do I not? I’m hearing different things,” Verstappen said after he was initially crowned world champion during a second post-race interview.
It was confirmed again, and he sat down in front of a “World Champion” banner in a throne room.
“I feel a little lonely,” he said.
However, the Red Bull driver was not entirely sure of his new status as two-time world champion, even after the podium celebrations to mark his race victory, as the regulations governing the awarding of points in the rain caused confusion.
“Am I the world champion?” Verstappen asked Jensen Button before his interview on the podium.
According to the FIA, full points, rather than staggered points, could be awarded because the race was restarted after a rain delay, giving Verstappen a 113-point lead in the world championship with only 112 left to win on the track.
The rain fell all afternoon in Suzuka, and spray flowed out the back of the cars when they started for the first time.
Earlier, Leclerc challenged Verstappen for pole into the first corner but the defending world champion held his line around the outside to stay in the lead.
Behind them, Ferrari’s Sainz aquaplaned off the road, into the promotional entry and out of the race, while Williams’ Alex Albon suffered a gearbox and was also forced to retire.
Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly collected debris from Sainz’s crash recovery truck and pitted for a new front wing.
Catching the field, he drove past a rescue truck on the track, evoking memories of Jules Bianchi who died after his car hit a rescue truck on this track eight years ago, sparking anger from drivers and teams alike.
“No respect for the Life of the driver no respect for the memory of Jules incredible (sic)”, said Bianchi’s father Philippe. Instagram.
Gasly later received a 20-second penalty and two penalty points for speeding under red flag conditions. CNN has reached out to the FIA for comment on the safety concerns of the teams and drivers.
Soon after, the race was stopped and an almost two-hour delay followed, waiting for the conditions to become safer amid heavy rain.
When the race restarted behind a safety car to help clear the track of water, the sky was still cloudy and each car trailed a plume of spray behind it.
Several drivers clashed shortly after the restart, swapping wet tires for intermediate tyres.
Verstappen was among them and once out of the pits, he weaved his way through the field with ease to take the lead again, opening up a four-second lead over Leclerc, who initially looked comfortable in second, eight seconds ahead of Perez.
Verstappen’s advantage only widened, reaching first 10 and then 15 seconds over Leclerc, whose attention turned to the car behind as Perez moved within striking distance of the Ferrari towards the end of the race.
On the final corner, Leclerc eventually succumbed to the pressure of Perez and locked up on the final chicane of the race, cutting the corner and collecting a five-second penalty that demoted him to third.
Twenty-seven seconds down the road, Verstappen cruised to victory, further confirming his dominance in a season during which he won 12 of the 18 races.
He just needs one more win from the remaining four more races to match the record for most Grand Prix wins won in a single season – currently held by Michael Schumacher in 2004 and Sebastian Vettel in 2013.