When Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc engaged in thrilling tactical tussles for the lead in the opening three races of the 2022 Formula One season, the possibility of a title battle just as rip-roaring as the one the Dutchman contested with Lewis Hamilton last year seemed eminently realistic.
Ferrari had the early pace advantage, Red Bull‘s new machinery was unreliable, and Leclerc’s ascent through the junior ranks in tandem with Verstappen meant he seemed particularly adept at understanding his rival’s aggression and responding to it in the best way.
Fast forward five months from Leclerc’s win in Australia, though, and the only question the 2022 championship battle has left to answer is when rather than if Verstappen will secure his second successive title.
The 24-year-old has been in utterly imperious form since the race in Melbourne, and has now won 11 of 16 races so far this season. Ferrari, meanwhile, have faded away through a combination of Red Bull’s growing speed advantage, errors of Leclerc, and a series of pitwall strategy gaffes.
With a lead of 116 points over Leclerc ahead of the final six races of the campaign in Asia and the Americas, Verstappen is all but guaranteed the title, so when could he make it official?
F1 2022 drivers’ standings
- Max Verstappen – 335
- Charles Leclerc – 219
- Sergio Perez – 210
- George Russell – 203
- Carlos Sainz – 187
- Lewis Hamilton – 168
- Lando Norris – 88
- Esteban Ocon – 66
- Fernando Alonso – 59
- Valtteri Bottas – 46
- Kevin Magnussen – 22
- Pierre Gasly – 22
- Sebastian Vettel – 20
- Daniel Ricciardo – 19
- Mick Schumacher – 12
- Yuki Tsunoda – 11
- Zhou Guanyu – 6
- Lance Stroll – 5
- Alex Albon – 4
- Nyck de Vries – 2
- Nicholas Latifi – 0
- Nico Hulkenberg – 0
When is the earliest Verstappen can win the title?
Verstappen can actually win the title in the very next race, when F1 returns to Singapore for the first time since 2019 due to Covid-19 complications.
That is unlikely though, as quite a lot of circumstances would need to go Verstappen’s way to make it happen. Presuming the Dutchman is able to win and secure the bonus point for fastest lap, he would take 26 in total, meaning Leclerc would need to finish eighth or lower and team-mate Sergio Perez would have to finish fourth or lower.
If Verstappen wins but does not take the fastest lap, then Leclerc would have to finish ninth or lower and Perez fifth or lower for the championship to be secured.
Put simply, Verstappen must outscore Leclerc by 22, Perez by 13, and George Russell of Mercedes by four points to take title glory at Marina Bay. That possibility definitely cannot be ruled out, but is unlikely.
What if Leclerc is able to take some race wins?
Of course, Leclerc can still delay Verstappen’s crowning moment if he is able to stitch together some race wins. But even if the Monegasque were to win all six of the remaining grands prix, he would still come up significantly short of Verstappen if the runaway leader managed to score regular podiums.
While it might be unlikely that Ferrari are able to best Red Bull in more than or two races between now and the finale at Abu Dhabi, let’s imagine, for argument’s sake, that Leclerc is able to win three on the spin in Singapore, Japan, and the United States. And also that Verstappen takes two second places and one third.
The gap (without taking fastest lap bonus points from those hypothetical results into account) would be 92 points. With only three races left, the lead would be unassailable and Verstappen would have won the title Texas. So even in the highly unlikely event that Leclerc is able to take multiple victories in a row from now on, Verstappen still isn’t far away from taking the crown.
Which race seems most likely for Verstappen’s coronation?
Verstappen will be the overwhelming favourite to win both of the next two races, so is likely to take 50 points for the victories with two more possible for fastest laps.
If he takes 51, he will reach 386 points by the chequered flag in Japan. Even if Leclerc were to finish second on both occasions, plus one bonus fastest lap point, he would only be on 256 points. With only 100 left from that point onwards, Verstappen would be champion.
Simply put, as long as Verstappen scores well in both Singapore and Japan, then Suzuka seems the most likely circuit where will be crowned champion for the second time.