Max Verstappen has become a double Formula 1 world champion after taking a brilliant win in challenging conditions in the Japanese Grand Prix.
The Red Bull driver was in a class of his own at Suzuka, beating his championship rivals, teammate Sergio Perez and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and opening up an unassailable 113-point lead in the standings with four race weekends to go.
Despite heavy rain the race got away on time, with Verstappen recovering from a slow start to beat Leclerc into the first turn, while Perez snuck ahead of the second Ferrari of Carlos Sainz.
However, Sainz lost control exiting the hairpin halfway around the first lap, clouting the barriers and bringing out the safety car. At the same time the rain intensified and the decision was taken to suspend the race.
After an hour-and-a-half of waiting the action resumed with 40 minutes remaining on the race clock, but that was enough time for Verstappen to build a 27-second lead over the field. Despite only 28 of the scheduled 53 laps being completed, it was decided that full points would be awarded.
It seemed as though the Dutchman would have to wait to celebrate a championship triumph though, as Leclerc held off Perez to keep himself mathematically in the running. However, the Ferrari driver was judged to have gained an unfair advantage by running wide at the final chicane and after being given a five-second penalty Leclerc was demoted to third.
Verstappen's first title was won in controversial circumstances last year after a bitter season-long battle with Lewis Hamilton. But the 25-year-old has dominated this season and outclassing the field in the wet around a classic circuit such as Suzuka was a fitting way for him to seal his second championship.
Despite Sainz's crash and Leclerc's penalty, Ferrari were able to strengthen their second place in the constructors' standings, eking out their advantage over Mercedes by one point.
A slew of slip-ups by the Scuderia coupled with impressive consistency from the Silver Arrows had seen Mercedes climb dangerously close to Ferrari in the championship, but with the gap at 67 points with four races remaining the Italian team should be safe.
After a run of eight constructors' championships in a row it has been a frustrating season for Mercedes. Hamilton and teammate George Russell have struggled to get the best out of the car in qualifying, and although they have had better pace in race conditions a lack of top-end power has seen them struggle to overtake slower cars on Sundays.
That was never more evident than at Suzuka where Hamilton could qualify no better than sixth, and that led to him being stuck behind Esteban Ocon's Alpine despite being clearly much faster.
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It didn't help that with the track wet DRS was not available, or that Ocon was the second-fastest car on the straights, but it is an area where Mercedes clearly need to focus looking ahead to next season.
Hamilton has won at least one race every year since he entered F1 in 2007 but has drawn a blank this season. The many medium speed corners in Texas and Sao Paulo offer opportunities, while the altitude of Mexico City mitigates a lack of power, but time is running out for the seven-time world champion to keep his winning record intact.
Having lost the lucrative fourth place in the constructors' championship to McLaren following a disastrous race in Singapore, Alpine hit back in style at Suzuka.
Ocon bravely held off Hamilton's determined charge to claim a season-best fourth place, while Fernando Alonso recovered to seventh after a late tyre change.
There's always a fun atmosphere at the Circuit of the Americas near Austin, Texas and with the pressure off the title contenders that should be even truer when F1 reconvenes in the USA in two weeks' time.
The last four races at the track have yielded four different winners, but Verstappen won there last year from pole position, holding off a sustained challenge from Hamilton. Despite having wrapped up the title, the flying Dutchman is not expected to ease up and is a 2/5 chance to make it seven wins in his last eight outings.
Teammate Perez has jumped up to second in the drivers' standings, one point ahead of Leclerc, and Red Bull look likely to seal their first constructors' championship since 2013 in Texas. They will claim the teams' crown as long as their current 165-point lead over Ferrari does not shrink below 147 points.
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