The Decisive Race?
Suzuka provided the venue for the fallout after Hamilton's comments hinting at a conspiracy against his championship campaign, at a circuit not traditionally suited to Hamilton and Mercedes. Vettel came into qualifying with a 3-place grid penalty thanks to his collision with Rosberg in Malaysia, but also with Arrivabene seeming to suggest everyone in the team (including Vettel) needed to work to earn their Ferrari contracts. Whether that meant anything or was just a general warning from higher up the organisation was anybody's guess.
Q1 was a quiet affair, Mercedes and Red Bull running on mediums while Raikkonen went fastest on softs, Vettel then pipping his teammate. Grosjean jumped the Red Bulls, Gutierrez just behind them. Button, Magnussen, Ericsson, Nasr, Ocon and Wehrlein all fell, Button pipped by Bottas at the last possible moment, Alonso barely surviving for Q2.
Despite beating Ricciardo, Verstappen complained about being sent out in traffic where he can't put in a strong performance.
Palmer fell 16th behind Alonso, Sainz, Kvyat and the Williams pair. That meant that the final 6 rows were mostly filled by the teams two by two, aside from McLaren and Renault. In terms of Q2 results, the same was true aside from Alonso and Palmer. Particular credit goes to Haas for their Q2 performance, only beaten by the top 3 teams as they finished 7th and 8th. Suzuka was their first time getting both cars into Q3.
Verstappen reported a loss of gear sync as he circled in 5th.
Rosberg stole pole from Hamilton, Raikkonen leading a Ferrari 3-4 ahead of Verstappen, Ricciardo, Perez, Grosjean, Hulkenberg and Gutierrez. Vettel dropped behind Perez, however, thanks to his penalty.
Button dropped to 22nd on the grid due to a complete power unit change. Raikkonen fell to 8th after a gearbox change.
Hamilton got a terrible start and dropped to 8th – behind Hulkenberg and Perez as well as Ferrari, Red Bull and the leading sister Mercedes. The Haas pair dropped to 9th and 10th.
Vettel passed Perez for 3rd at the start of lap 3, before we heard Hamilton apologising for his start – presumably taking the blame for it.
Hamilton finally climbed past Hulkenberg for 7th on lap 7, but the reigning champion was struggling to keep pace with the leaders.
Red Bull stacked their drivers on lap 10, although Ricciardo was too far back to have to wait. Grosjean and Kvyat were also in. Hulkenberg was in a lap later, trying to cover off Red Bull despite them being ahead of him already. Rosberg pitted on lap 12, followed by Vettel. Perez and Raikkonen also boxed, Ferrari stacking neatly as well. Ricciardo jumped Perez and Raikkonen.
Hamilton stopped on lap 13, rejoining in front of Raikkonen as the Ferrari jumped Perez and the unstopped Renault of Palmer.
Gutierrez spun the Haas while attempting an overtake but managed to not collide with anyone.
Raikkonen stopped on lap 26, trying to get to the end on one set of hards. Bottas and Palmer also pitted. Verstappen covered him off a couple of laps later, and Rosberg another lap after.
Ricciardo came in on lap 32, losing a few seconds on the right front tyre. Hamilton was in on the following lap, Vettel reacting as traffic mounted up ahead. The German rejoined behind Hamilton but potentially would be able to use the softer tyres to retake 3rd.
Vettel's charge was undermined by drivers not adhering to blue flag rules as easily as they should. The Ferrari dropped away as Hamilton reeled in Verstappen. The end of the penultimate lap saw Verstappen cut off the Mercedes very late and wrecked the last chance Hamilton had of overtaking him.
Rosberg won an easy race really, from Verstappen and Hamilton. Off the podium were Vettel, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Perez, Hulkenberg, Massa and Bottas. Grosjean, Palmer, Kvyat, Magnussen, Ericsson, Alonso, Sainz, Button, Nasr, Gutierrez, Ocon and Wehrlein completed the results, every single driver finishing the race.
Mercedes officially took the Constructors' Championship in Japan, while Rosberg's lead was stretched to 33 points over Hamilton with 100 points left to fight for. Hamilton's despondancy after Malaysia and Japan could only really help Rosberg, on the basis of past form.