Red Bull driver Max Verstappen becomes only the third driver after Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel to clinch the title with four races to spare.

Verstappen has won 12 of 18 races in 2022 and thanked his team for an
Verstappen has won 12 of 18 races in 2022 and thanked his team for an "incredible" year. (Reuters)

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen has clinched his second consecutive Formula One drivers’ title by winning the Japanese Grand Prix in the rain at Suzuka.

Verstappen has been dominant all season and claimed the title on Sunday with four races remaining.

The Dutchman started from pole in pouring rain only for the race to be stopped after two laps as several cars crashed. It was resumed two hours later with 28 of the 53 laps completed and Verstappen leading the whole way.

He was followed by teammate Sergio Perez in second and Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc. They were the only drivers who could have overtaken Verstappen for the title.

Verstappen now has an unsurmountable lead with 366 points. Perez has 253 and Leclerc 252.

READ MORE: Verstappen wins fourth race in a row at Dutch Grand Prix

At the start, Verstappen took the lead with a risky pass after a slow start but several cars lost control including Ferrari's Carlos Sainz, who spun and was knocked out.

Organisers stopped the race after two laps. AlphaTaura’s Pierre Gasly complained on his radio that he passed a recovery vehicle that was allowed on to the track shortly after the safety car emerged. This incident apparently came just as the race was red flagged.

This is a sensitive issue in Japan. In 2014, French driver Jules Bianchi collided on the course with a recovery vehicle. He was placed in an induced coma and died nine months later.

The result gave Verstappen an unassailable 113-point lead in the championship, making him only the third driver after Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel to clinch the title with four races to spare.

READ MORE: Formula One champ Verstappen surges from 14th to win Belgian GP

Source: AP