Lewis Hamilton bounced back from a retirement in Singapore to take a comfortable victory in the Japanese Grand Prix.
The race was won and lost at the start when Hamilton managed to get alongside Nico Rosberg in to Turn 1 and forced his team-mate wide at Turn 2 to take the lead. Rosberg dropped back to fourth behind Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas as a result of the exchange, losing a lot of time in the opening stint as a result.
Rosberg recovered to finish second by passing Bottas on track and Vettel at his second stop, but Hamilton had plenty of pace in hand against his team-mate and eased to victory by 19 seconds. Rosberg had to keep an eye on Vettel as the Ferrari never fell more than three seconds adrift, but the Mercedes kept out of DRS range to secure a one-two.
Kimi Raikkonen ensured Ferrari was clearly best of the rest with fourth place having also passed Bottas on track, with his fellow Finn coming home fifth for Williams ahead of Nico Hulkenberg.
Romain Grosjean, Pastor Maldonado, Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz rounded out the top ten while Fernando Alonso just failed to give Honda a home point as he finished 11th.
Hamilton had felt he could have beaten Rosberg to pole position on Saturday but for Daniil Kvyat's heavy crash in Q3, but he immediately made amends by robustly passing Rosberg. Unwilling to yield to his team-mate - who had the inside line - Rosberg actually did himself more harm by running wide at Turn 2 and dropping behind Vettel and Bottas, which allowed Hamilton to escape.
Behind the lead fight, Felipe Massa and Daniel Ricciardo touched wheels off the line and both picked up punctures, limping round to the pits. With Massa immediately slowing, the concertina effect so Sergio Perez nudged wide by Carlos Sainz, with the Force India going off in to the gravel but being able to rejoin.
Vettel remained in touch with the leader for a while but switched to hard tyres at his first stop while Hamilton stayed on the mediums and opened up a commanding lead. Rosberg opted for hard tyres too and was quick, passing Bottas in to the final chicane with a late lunge despite the Williams being on mediums.
The rest of the position changes at the front came during the second round of pit stops, with just one lap of undercut enough for Rosberg to get ahead of Vettel and Raikkonen to jump Bottas for fourth. Vettel then kept the pressure on Rosberg through traffic but was unable to get within DRS range of the Mercedes.
Hulkenberg, Grosjean and Maldonado made rather serene progress through the field having made their first stops early, but behind them some exciting racing took place. DRS was allowing moves in to Turn 1 and as Max Verstappen attacked Felipe Nasr, the pair closed in behind Jenson Button who did not have the benefit of the DRS. With big closing speeds, Verstappen moved to the inside and Nasr went to the outside of Button, with the Sauber emerging ahead of the Toro Rosso and Button losing two places.
Sainz had been running ahead of his Toro Rosso team-mate but hit a bollard on entry in to the pits for his second stop, breaking his front wing and losing time. Verstappen then overtook Sainz in to the final chicane to secure ninth place having started back in 18th following a grid penalty.
Marcus Ericsson surrendered a chance of points with an early spin at Spoon, but he drove well defensively to hold off Perez and the recovering Red Bulls for a number of laps before another error at Spoon finally allowed Perez through.
Will Stevens pulled off the save of the race when he spun at 130R but managed to keep his Manor out of the wall, with team-mate Alexander Rossi doing well to avoid contact as he was forced to drive straight in to a cloud of smoke where Stevens was recovering.
There was no such drama at the front as Hamilton eased home to confirm Mercedes' recovery from its problems in Singapore, securing a victory which moves the double world champion level with Ayrton Senna in the all-time winners list on 41, one behind Vettel.
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|01||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||53 laps - 1h28m06.508s||2|
|06||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||+55.559||2|
|09||Max Verstappen||Toro Rosso||+95.315||2|
|10||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso||+1 lap||2|
|11||Fernando Alonso||McLaren||+1 lap||2|
|12||Sergio Perez||Force India||+1 lap||3|
|13||Daniil Kvyat||Red Bull||+1 lap||3|
|14||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber||+1 lap||2|
|15||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||+1 lap||2|
|16||Jenson Button||McLaren||+1 lap||2|
|17||Felipe Massa||Williams||+2 laps||3|
|18||Alexander Rossi||Manor||+2 laps||2|
|19||Will Stevens||Manor||+3 laps||3|
|20||Felipe Nasr||Sauber||+4 laps||3|