Lewis Hamilton came into the race after DNF-ing in Singapore with a 41-point lead over Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the driver championship; Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) another 8 points back. Vettel had won 4 times in 6 starts at Suzuka. Rosberg won the pole, with Hamilton starting P2. Valtteri Bottas (Williams) was next on the grid, followed by Vettel.
Rosberg dropped to P4 through the first series of turns after dueling Hamilton for the lead. Vettel ran second, Bottas third. The yellow came out for Sectors 2 and 3 during Lap 2, with three of the competitors suffering tire damage in the early battles. Green-flag competition was back underway by Lap 5.
Rosberg pitted from P2 during Lap 16 (of 53), returning to action in third. Hamilton’s lead was roughly 9 sec. When Hamilton pitted he took a second set of medium tires. The Lap-20 running order was Hamilton, Vettel, Rosberg, Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari), and Bottas.
Halfway through the race Hamilton had built a 13.7-sec lead over Vettel. Rosberg came in for his second stop 2 laps later, putting on his first set of hards. Vettel pitted during Lap 31 and came out behind the German Mercedes driver. Hamilton was complaining of heavy vibrations before making his second stop.
With 15 laps left, Vettel had closed to within 2.5 sec of Rosberg for P2. Three laps later he’d cut the gap to 1 sec but could get no closer, the race podium ending up Hamilton, Rosberg, and Vettel. Raikkonen (P4) and Bottas (P5) followed, mirroring the standings coming into the race. Hamilton won by 18.9 sec, pushing his championship lead out to 48 points with five races left and tying Ayrton Senna at fourth all-time in career wins with 41, behind Michael Schumacher (91), Alain Prost (51), and Vettel (42).
Romain Grosjean (Lotus) took P7 behind his teammate Nico Hulkenburg, and passed Sergio Perez (Force India) for ninth in the driver standings.
Driver standings (Top 10)
Lewis Hamilton (Great Britain), Mercedes – 277
Nico Rosberg (Germany), Mercedes – 229
Sebastian Vettel (Germany), Ferrari – 218
Kimi Raikkonen (Finland), Ferrari – 119
Valtteri Bottas (Finland), Williams-Mercedes – 111
Felipe Massa (Brazil), Williams-Mercedes – 97
Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull-Renault – 73
Daniil Kvyat (Russia) Red Bull-Renault – 66
Romain Grosjean (France) Lotus-Mercedes – 44
Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India-Mercdes - 39
Mercedes (Rosberg, Hamilton) – 506
Ferrari (Vettel, Raikkonen) – 337
Williams-Mercedes (Massa, Bottas) – 208
Red Bull Racing-Renault (Ricciardo, Kvyat) – 139
Force India-Mercedes (Nico Hulkenberg, Perez) – 77
Lotus-Mercedes (Grosjean, Pastor Maldonado) - 60
Toro Rosso-Renault (Carlos Sainz Jr., Max Verstappen) – 44
Sauber-Ferrari (Felipe Nasr, Marcus Ericsson) – 26
McLaren-Honda (Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso) - 17
Next event: Russian Grand Prix (Sochi) – Oct. 9-11, 2015