Nico Rosberg capitalized on a terrible Lewis Hamilton start to lead the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix from start to finish, extending his drivers' championship lead to 33 points at the Suzuka International Racing Course on Sunday.
The win is Rosberg's first in Japan in 11 tries and his ninth of 2016. Hamilton's third place was enough to secure the constructors' championship for Mercedes for the third-straight year, but it is the deficit to his teammate Rosberg that he cares about most, with just four races to go in the season and a maximum 100 points left on offer.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen slotted in behind Rosberg at the first corner, and despite coming under heavy pressure from a charging Hamilton late in the race, was able to survive to cross the line second -- taking his sixth podium finish of his young career.
"The whole weekend felt great from the word go. It has been very, very special, especially on this legendary track. It's beautiful to win here," said Rosberg, who finally got a win from pole in Suzuka after failing the last two years.
"I just controlled the pace, the gap to Max," he said. "Perfect weekend really. Really happy with that. (The) points I'm well aware of, the 33 points, but it is not something that I focus on...I take it race by race."
Hamilton's race was immediately compromised when he bogged down on the start line, going backward as a gaggle of cars, including the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, the Force India of Sergio Perez and the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, shot past.
By the end of the first series of corners, Hamilton was in eighth with his teammate and championship rival in clear air at the front.
"I don't think the damp patch (on the grid) had a lot to do with it. I made a mistake. Just working my way up from there was tricky, but I did the best I could," said Hamilton, who went on to say that wheelspin was the main reason for his horror launch.
From eighth, Hamilton began a charge through the pack, picking off cars on track and in the pits. The most significant pass came when he emerged from the pits in third and ahead of Vettel with 19 laps to go, allowing him to set off in his ultimately fruitless pursuit of Verstappen.
Hamilton had one real attempt to pass the young Dutch driver, making a dive at the final chicane on the penultimate lap, but Verstappen aggressively closed the door and forced the two-time reigning world champion to take evasive measures down a slip road.
"I fought hard at the end, but I just didn't make it...It doesn't really matter now, it's done," Hamilton said through gritted teeth when asked about Verstappen's defending.
For his part, the 19-year-old Verstappen felt he fought hard but fair.
"Of course Lewis was closing up a lot in the end of the race, he was pushing hard. I mean, he is fighting for the world championship so you are not going to do crazy things, of course. I think in the end it was all good."
"You see him coming in the mirrors. Already the laps before you see him closing, but I saw already out of (turn) 14 that he had a good exit. So I was using a bit of (battery) energy and defended it to the last chicane."
The Vettel and Raikkonen Ferrari pairing finished fourth and fifth, with the Finn, who qualified third but started eighth after taking a penalty for changing his gearbox ahead of the race, making good progress to finish 8.1-seconds behind his partner in red.
Vettel felt it was a missed opportunity for a Ferrari team in much need of some good results as they are now 50 points behind Red Bull in the constructors' championship.
"It's easy to analyze what we could have done when, and so on, but in the end, I think it was a good (strategy) decision (to pit). I was pushing it and the team was pushing it," said Vettel when asked about dropping a position to Hamilton while in the pits.
"It is very easy now to come out as an expert and criticize that, but in the moment we had to try. It was our chance to get P2 and in the end, it didn't work."
Verstappen's Australian teammate and winner of last week's Malaysian Grand Prix, Ricciardo, struggled all race, seemingly suffering from the lack of straight line speed he complained of after qualifying. He finished in a distant sixth place but maintains his third place in the drivers' championship.
"Straight-line speed we struggle a bit, but also following cars close. Today I could not save the tires and really launch an attack," said Ricciardo.
Despite extending his championship lead, Rosberg, who in the last two seasons has watched his teammate celebrate from across the Mercedes garage, is staying the course in hopes of grabbing his first title.
"There is still a long way to go. There is not any point to change my approach now. So I am sticking with what I am doing because it is working well," he said.