Japanese Grand Prix driver ratings: Mighty Max Verstappen…and rare praise for Nicholas Latifi

Jon Wilde
2022 Japanese Grand Prix PlanetF1 driver ratings

2022 Japanese Grand Prix PlanetF1 driver ratings

Just like in Abu Dhabi last year, a dramatic final lap ensured Max Verstappen would leave Suzuka as a race winner and newly-crowned World Champion.

This time, the Dutchman was not directly involved as the stewards took a hand in determining when and how the title would be resolved.

We only had 40 minutes or so of actual racing because of the rain, but that was still enough time to rate the 20 drivers on their performances in the Japanese Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen: Starting from pole position, Verstappen fended off a strong challenge from Charles Leclerc at the opening corner before the race was red-flagged after Carlos Sainz’s crash and a number of other incidents.

Upon the restart, he was simply never troubled and built an increasingly large gap, eventually coming home nearly half a minute clear.

Like most other people, the Dutchman was confused afterwards about whether he was confirmed as the 2022 champion or not, but eventually the celebrations could begin. Not a day to be picking fault. 10.

Sergio Perez: Starting fourth, Perez got past Sainz immediately and produced a typically patient display in the race proper, gradually reducing his deficit to Leclerc to ease into a challenging position.

The Mexican could not pull off a move on the Ferrari, but his harrying eventually told at the final chicane where his rival ran off track and was deemed to have gained an advantage by doing so, incurring a penalty.

Not the heights of his Singapore victory a week earlier, but Perez can be proud of the role he played in his colleague wrapping up the championship with four races to spare – and he himself is now second in the standings. 7.5.

Charles Leclerc: Credit to Leclerc for having a go at Verstappen when the race first began, but that proved his only hope of fighting for the win.

The Ferrari qualifying pace was simply not there in the wet and, pitting for intermediate tyres at the same time as the leader, Leclerc was unable to try anything different strategy-wise.

Unfortunately, that late error, which ended the delaying of the inevitable as far as the championship is concerned, must be added to the litany of Ferrari mistakes this season. 6.5.

Esteban Ocon: Despite the changeable conditions through the weekend, it was clear to see the upgrades Alpine took to Suzuka had worked – and Ocon returned to Europe with his best result of the season so far.

He capitalised on a strong qualifying performance to hold off Lewis Hamilton in a draggy Mercedes for lap after lap and refused to flinch – in timely fashion, following the confirmation of his new team-mate for 2023. 9.

Lewis Hamilton: Admitting afterwards he’d “had a blast” in conditions he enjoys, Hamilton found himself tussling with Ocon on a wet track just like he had in Monaco – but this time there was no contact.

Both Hamilton and George Russell had bemoaned the W13’s straight-line speed and even with no DRS, that appeared to be the reason why the seven-time former World Champion remained behind the Alpine. 7.

Sebastian Vettel: On his favourite circuit, Vettel’s race was closely connected to Fernando Alonso’s from the moment they collided at the original lights-out and the Aston Martin went into a spin.

Dropping to the back, an early switch to inters worked a treat for the German and he was able to hold off a charging Alonso by a mere hundredth of a second as they crossed the line in union. 9.

Fernando Alonso: A two-stop strategy for Alonso was one more than his main rivals, but you got the impression he made both of them a little too late.

He managed to get past Russell on his fresher inters late on and almost Vettel too, but in contrast to his Alpine team-mate this was a race of unfulfilled potential for the Spaniard. 7.

George Russell: “The worst decision we have made” was Russell’s take on Mercedes’ decision to double-stack their drivers in the pits on what was a rather stroppy Sunday over the team radio for the younger of the two Britons.

He later pulled off some strong overtaking moves, however, including two eye-catchers at Turn 6, to end up back in the position where he had started. 7.

Nicholas Latifi: We have had enough reason to criticise Latifi this season and never been shy of doing that – so it’s only fair to say a huge “well done” for belatedly opening his 2022 points account.

It was fully deserved too, in a race of only two retirements, with the Canadian benefiting from going for the inters early and holding on admirably. If only this performance had come a few weeks earlier…9.

Lando Norris: Another of the earlier stoppers, Norris was never really able to take advantage of that and came in less than a second behind Latifi.

The promise McLaren had shown in the early part of qualifying disappeared thereafter and they have now fallen 13 points behind Alpine. 6.

Lando Norris' McLaren through the esses in the Japanese GP. Suzuka October 2022.
Lando Norris' McLaren through the esses during the Japanese Grand Prix. Suzuka October 2022.

Daniel Ricciardo: Among the last to switch to inters, that strategy did not work for Ricciardo even though he finished only a couple of seconds behind his team-mate Norris.

On the weekend when he all but resigned himself to being on the sidelines for 2023, the Australian will be hoping this was not his Suzuka swansong. 6.

Lance Stroll: ‘Brave’ was one description you could use for Stroll’s remarkable route to Turn 1 when he appeared to be millimetres from contact with the pit wall.

He made two pit-stops and finished three seconds outside the points on a weekend when Vettel was able to get much more out of the Aston Martin, especially in qualifying, than the Canadian. 7.

Yuki Tsunoda: Running at the backend of the points at one stage, Tsunoda dropped away – but at least his home crowd got to see him in F1 race action for the first time.

And seven days on from driving straight into the barrier in Singapore, getting round safely at least counted for something. 6.

Kevin Magnussen: Early action was provided by Magnussen as he executed overtaking manoeuvres on Stroll and Valtteri Bottas.

Not a successful race for Haas but there was probably not a lot more the Dane could have done under the conditions. 6.5.

Valtteri Bottas: Still no points since the Canadian Grand Prix for Bottas, who was the winner the last time Formula 1 had visited Suzuka.

A nondescript kind of performance from the Finn as Alfa Romeo continue to rest on the laurels they had garnered in the early phase of the campaign. 5.

Zhou Guanyu: Remarkably, Zhou ended up with the fastest lap – but no point awarded for it due to finishing 16th – after staying out on the extreme wet tyres for too long.

Had a spin on the opening lap when he said he got “sandwiched” and also revealed he had struggled particularly with the spray. 5.

Pierre Gasly: Subject of the early drama as he sped past the recovery vehicle collecting Sainz’s stricken Ferrari, Gasly was hit with a 20-second penalty and two penalty points on his Super Licence.

It made a difference of only one place to his finishing position on a weekend when the best news for the Frenchman was the confirmation of his switch to Alpine next season. 5.

Mick Schumacher: Last of the 18 remaining drivers to shed the full wet tyres, Schumacher plummeted down the order both before and after his pit-stop to prop up the final classification.

After a crash at the end of FP1, this was not a weekend that will have helped his chances of staying at Haas for a third season. 5.5

Alex Albon: Retired on lap one after “a small incident” with a loss of water pressure after being struck in the radiator area of the Williams.

It continued a horrible three-race spell for Albon, which began when he was taken ill at Monza. 5.

Carlos Sainz: Unable to even complete a lap before he aquaplaned into the barrier and out of the race.

Difficult to criticise anyone in such treacherous conditions, but Sainz was the fall guy as he notched up his fifth DNF of the season. 4.

Read more: Lewis Hamilton congratulates Max Verstappen, but vows Mercedes ‘will have better car’ next year