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Another Controversial Victory for Max Verstappen – More Corruption?

With the FIA granting another F1 victory for controversial champion Max Verstappen, is 2022 the worst year for sports corruption yet?

Just when football fans the world over thought the 2022 Qatar FIFA World Cup would be the corruption highlight of the sporting calendar, the FIA have thrown their hat in with yet another controversial championship win for Red Bull driver Max Verstappen today at the Japanese Grand Prix.  

Such was the confusion about the victory that even Verstappen himself had to ask reporters, “Are you sure?” after the chaotic race’s conclusion – and indeed a good many others are asking that same question, as #F1xed trends on Twitter and rage against the FIA surfaces once more.

Verstappen’s 2021 championship title at Abu Dhabi was itself a matter of strongly divisive debate, as race director Michael Masi made the decision that gifted Verstappen the title and lost Masi himself his own job. At the close of a season marked by intense on-track rivalry between veteran Sir Lewis Hamilton for Mercedes and the then-24-year-old Verstappen, the FIA brazenly abandoned their own hitherto rigid rules to ensure the final moments of the season came down to a wheel-to-wheel battle between Hamilton and Verstappen – with Verstappen taking a highly controversial and heavily debated victory. 

A huge pushback from F1 fans and the Mercedes team did incite an investigation that saw Masi replaced and an admittance of ‘human error’, but the result stood regardless. Had Hamilton won, it would have been his historic eighth championship win – beating the record for the most Formula 1 championships ever won by a single driver, let alone the first person of colour to achieve that accolade. But it was not to be – the FIA seemingly saw to that, and opted for ‘the youngest driver ever’ to make that history instead. 

A change of personnel wasn’t enough it seems to keep things decent in the world of Formula 1 for 2022 – after a ferociously rainy Grand Prix in Japan resonant of the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix (in which no actual racing could take place due to the severe weather and points were awarded based on the previous day’s qualifying) chaos and confusion was the order of the day once again. Whilst Verstappen won the race itself free and clear – his twelfth this season – finishing in first place was not enough to clinch the championship on its own. That is, until the FIA stepped in yet again, issuing a time penalty for Ferrari’s Charles LeClerc and going against all existing precedent to award full points and grant the championship to Verstappen once more, still with four more races to go of the season. 

Verstappen simply said it was ‘quite funny’ to win this way. It certainly is, to win back-to-back championships in the steward’s boxes instead of on the track. 

The numbers don’t lie –2022 would almost certainly have been Verstappen’s year regardless of the FIA’s obvious intervention, and with a staggering 366 total points (113 points clear of his Red Bull teammate Sergio Pérez placed second) he cannot be caught. But the controversy continues, as an alleged breach of the $145million capped budget for each team is currently being investigated, and if Red Bull are found to have overspent, both Verstappen’s crowns are in serious jeopardy. 

A more likely outcome, however, is that while a ‘human error’ may or may not be found in the accounts department of Red Bull, the result will inevitably still stand. Why else would the report be scheduled for publication the day after the championship was decided once again by unhealthy influence from the FIA, when the outcome would have been the same within a mere handful of Sundays?  

As Channel 4’s Steve Jones proclaimed – the age of Verstappen, indeed. 

Emma Marns qualified in Sports Journalism in 2014 and also holds an M.Phil in Irish Writing from Trinity College Dublin. She writes articles on sport, pregnancy, modern motherhood and Catholicism in the 21st century.

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