Max Verstappen etched his name in the history books when he won the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka on Sunday and in the process became a Formula One World Champion for the second time. F1 as a sport is booming in popularity, especially after the 2021 season in which Verstappen sealed his maiden title on the last lap of the last race of the year in Abu Dhabi. However, last year’s season finale was shrouded in controversy over how the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the sport’s governing body, conducted the race in which its wrongful interpretation of its own rules worked to Verstappen’s advantage to overtake Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton and win the title. Thus despite his on-track brilliance, Verstappen was not seen as the genuine winner. In 2022, the Red Bull Racing driver left no scope for such doubts by producing one of the most dominant title campaigns the sport has seen. The 25-year-old from the Netherlands has won a staggering 12 out of the 18 races so far and finished on the podium in two other races to seal the title with four rounds still left in the year. Blessed with racing genes — his father Jos is a former F1 driver and his mother Sophie Kumpen, an accomplished racer in karts — Verstappen was brought up to become a Formula One World Champion.
But in his initial years, he was prone to making mistakes, often too aggressive, and at times his driving bordered on the dangerous. However, over the last four years, Verstappen has matured to strike a balance by cutting out the errors without compromising on his speed and aggression. Despite being 46 points down to Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc after the first three races, Verstappen remained calm to slowly overturn the deficit. In races in Hungary, Belgium and Italy, where he often started from the middle of the pack, Verstappen was circumspect on the opening laps to fashion spectacular wins from lowly grid positions as he went on a five-race winning streak to run away with the title. For fans of the sport who had their appetite whetted after last year’s pulsating battle between Hamilton and Verstappen, 2022 was a damp squib as Ferrari and Leclerc’s early season promise faltered as a mix of reliability issues, strategic blunders and driver errors robbed the fans of a close fight for the title. Verstappen is now the 17th member of an elite club of drivers to have won multiple titles. If his team Red Bull can continue to give him competitive machinery over the next few years, this could be the start of the Verstappen era in Formula One.