Rosberg wins in Japan as Hamilton fights to third

© XPB 

Nico Rosberg extended his championship lead to 33 points with victory in the Japanese Grand Prix as Lewis Hamilton had to fight back to third place.

While Rosberg was relatively comfortable at the front of the field, Hamilton made a poor start from second on the grid and ended the opening lap in eighth place. On a circuit which is not easy to overtake on, Hamilton did well to fight back but had to settle for third behind Max Verstappen despite putting pressure on the Red Bull in the closing laps.

Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen were fourth and fifth for Ferrari despite Vettel looking strong earlier in the race, with Daniel Ricciardo sixth ahead of the Force India pair of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg, with Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas rounding out the top ten.

Once again a poor start proved damaging for Hamilton, who suffered a lot of wheelspin and plummeted from second on the grid to enter Turn 1 in eighth place. From there he had to fight back and duly did so but Rosberg had the pace to keep himself clear of the battles behind.

Rosberg led at Turn 1 and pulled away at around half a second per lap to put a gap between himself and Verstappen, with Perez jumping up to third ahead of Ricciardo and Vettel. The former Red Bull team-mates were soon scrapping, with Vettel passing Ricciardo around the outside approaching 130R on lap two and dispatching Perez at Turn 1 a lap later to take third place.

While Hamilton can bemoan poor reliability as hurting his title hopes this season, he has also made a number of poor starts and his radio message of "sorry guys" suggested this was another error. He followed Raikkonen in passing Hulkenberg using DRS at Turn 1 in the opening stint but was only seventh when the first round of pit stops took place, with Mercedes pulling out a clever strategic move.

With Perez holding up Raikkonen before their first stops, the two were stuck behind Jolyon Palmer's Renault when rejoining and Mercedes kept Hamilton out for an extra lap in clear air to jump both the Force India and Ferrari. Hamilton then quickly dispatched Ricciardo on the run to 130R and both Williams cars - who were yet to stop - to run fourth on track and chase down the leading trio of Rosberg, Verstappen and Vettel.

When in clear air, Vettel appeared to have strong pace but Ferrari wasn't able to match Red Bull's strategy and traffic started to play a major factor in the race. Raikkonen made an early second stop and was flying on hard tyres so Verstappen was also called in to do the same, putting in some quick times in clear air.

While Rosberg also stopped a lap later than Red Bull in response to Verstappen, Hamilton and Vettel went longer and the defending champion opted for hard tyres for his final stint. With Hamilton undercutting the Ferrari to take third, Vettel was put on soft tyres to attack but failed to do so as Hamilton dealt with traffic on the sweeping circuit much better than his rivals at the front.

Rosberg stabilised his lead at five seconds as Verstappen lost time to Hamilton under the blue flags and soon had the Mercedes within DRS range. The Dutchman was clever with his defence, however, focusing on a strong exit from the final chicane to prevent Hamilton attacking at Turn 1.

With two laps remaining, Hamilton had a good run out of Spoon and through 130R to line up a move at the final chicane instead, but Verstappen moved to the inside just as Hamilton also did so and the Mercedes had to switch back to the outside and missed the chicane - complaining Verstappen moved under braking - as the gap opened up to over a second for the final lap.

Such was Vettel's struggles with traffic he finished over 14s behind Hamilton at the flag, while Ricciardo was over five seconds behind Raikkonen due to a later final stop for hard tyres. The two Force Indias finished line astern as they finished over half minute clear of the one-stopping Williams pair, extending Force India's advantage in the constructors' championship to 10 points.

In a race when all 22 runners finished, it was a strong race for Esteban Ocon as he crossed the line just 2.1s behind Esteban Gutierrez - who spun at the chicane early in the race - and 20s clear of team-mate Pascal Wehrlein. McLaren suffered a disappointing race at Honda's home circuit, with Fernando Alonso 16th and Jenson Button 18th, with the latter having started last after a grid penalty.

While it wasn't a one-two the result secured Mercedes its third consecutive constructors' championship after another dominant season. In the drivers' standings the 33-point lead allows Rosberg to finish second to Hamilton in all the remaining races, and even third at one race, to secure his first drivers' title.

Breakfast with ... Tetsuo Tsugawa

FEATURE: Silbermann says... Snapchat and soap in Suzuka

Chris Medland's 2016 Japanese Grand Prix preview

Keep up to date with all the F1 news via Facebook and Twitter

01Nico RosbergMercedes53 laps - 1h26m43.333s2
02Max VerstappenRed Bull+4.9782
03Lewis HamiltonMercedes+5.7762
04Sebastian VettelFerrari+20.2692
05Kimi RaikkonenFerrari+28.3702
06Daniel RicciardoRed Bull+33.9412
07Sergio PerezForce India+57.4952
08Nico HulkenbergForce India+59.1772
09Felipe MassaWilliams+97.7631
10Valtteri BottasWilliams+98.3231
11Romain GrosjeanHaas+99.2542
12Jolyon PalmerRenault+1 lap1
13Daniil KvyatToro Rosso+1 lap2
14Kevin MagnussenRenault+1 lap1
15Marcus EricssonSauber+1 lap1
16Fernando AlonsoMcLaren+1 lap2
17Carlos SainzToro Rosso+1 lap2
18Jenson ButtonMcLaren+1 lap2
19Felipe NasrSauber+1 lap1
20Esteban GutierrezHaas+1 lap2
21Esteban OconManor+1 lap2
22Pascal WehrleinManor+1 lap2