Lewis Hamilton achieved his hero’s record of 41 Grands Prix victories with a commanding drive at Suzuka.
The Mercedes driver won the Japanese Grand Prix on the opening lap thanks to a better start from his team-mate Nico Rosberg.
Just a week on from the struggle around Singapore’s Marina Bay street circuit, normal service was resumed for Mercedes as Hamilton led home Rosberg by 18.9 seconds, scoring their eighth one-two of the season.
By winning the Japanese Grand Prix, Hamilton has now equalled the three-time world champion Ayrton Senna with 41 victories and from his 162nd start, one more than the Formula 1 legend.
The championship leader is now 48 points clear of Rosberg with 125 available from the remaining five races, with Sebastian Vettel falling 59 points adrift after the Ferrari driver could only manage third.
The key moment came in the opening seconds, as Rosberg and Hamilton ran side by side through the first corners.
With the preferable inside line at Turn 2, Hamilton was able to edge Rosberg aside, leading to the latter running marginally off track, allowing Vettel and Valtteri Bottas to sweep by into second and third place.
Aside from one complaint shortly before his second pitstop after 31 laps about “vibrations so big” that left him “struggling”, Hamilton was never troubled through to the chequered flag.
Rosberg limited the damage to his team-mate by passing Bottas on lap 17 before the undercut worked on Vettel 13 laps later come the second round of pit-stops.
Behind Vettel was team-mate Kimi Raikkonen as Ferrari made its own undercut work on Bottas who, from third on the grid at the start, had to settle for fifth place.
Williams team-mate Felipe Massa’s race was ruined in just a few hundred metres as the passing Daniel Ricciardo’s left-rear tyre collided with his own front-right.
Both drivers suffered punctures, with Massa also requiring a new front-wing from damage sustained on the slow crawl back to the pits.
Massa finished P17 and two laps down, with only Manor duo Alexander Rossi and Will Stevens and late retiree Felipe Nasr behind him.
Ricciardo was P15 and a lap adrift, a week after finishing second in the Singapore Grand Prix.
Red Bull team-mate Daniil Kvyat – whose car was completely rebuilt following his heavy crash in qualifying, requiring a new chassis, power unit and gearbox – endured a frustrating race and multiple issues as he could only manage P13.
From P13 on the grid, after serving a three-place penalty for causing a collision with Massa in Singapore, Nico Hulkenberg put in a fine sixth in his Force India, gaining ground at the start and then jumping both Lotus drivers at the first round of pit-stops.
Despite the Enstone-based team’s ongoing financial woes, Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado were seventh and eighth, with the Toro Rosso pair of Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr rounding out the points scorers.
Verstappen had started P17 after serving his own three-place penalty for stopping in a potentially dangerous place in qualifying after his car suffered an electrical failure.
Sainz had his own moment in the Japanese Grand Prix, hitting a bollard on the entry to the pitlane, forcing his pit crew into an unexpected front-wing change. He then lost out in a late battle with Verstappen.
As for McLaren, on Honda’s home track, Fernando Alonso could have done no more to suggest he wants a swift exit from his three-year contract…
During the race, Alonso bemoaned his lack of pace, saying “it’s embarrassing, very embarrassing”, before later labelling Honda’s power unit as “GP2” standard, followed by an exasperated cry of frustration.
Alonso eventually finished P11, with Jenson Button P16.
So not the most exciting Japanese Grand Prix but for championship leader Lewis Hamilton, this was an important victory. He matches his hero’s achievement and extends the points advantage over Mercedes team-mate.
Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka after 53 laps:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1h28m06.508s
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 18.964s
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 20.850s
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 33.768s
5 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 36.746s
6 Nico Hulkenberg Force India/Mercedes 55.559s
7 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Mercedes 1m12.298s
8 Pastor Maldonado Lotus-Mercedes 1m13.575s
9 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso-Renault 1m35.315s
10 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso-Renault 1 Lap
11 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Honda 1 Lap
12 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1 Lap
13 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull-Renault 1 Lap
14 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1 Lap
15 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 1 Lap
16 Jenson Button McLaren/Honda 1 Lap
17 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 2 Laps
18 Alexander Rossi Marussia-Ferrari 2 Laps
19 Will Stevens Marussia-Ferrari 3 Laps
20 Felipe Nasr Sauber-Ferrari Not running
1 Lewis Hamilton 277
2 Nico Rosberg 229
3 Sebastian Vettel 218
4 Kimi Raikkonen 119
5 Valtteri Bottas 111
6 Felipe Massa 97
7 Daniel Ricciardo 73
8 Daniil Kvyat 66
9 Romain Grosjean 44
10 Sergio Perez 39
11 Nico Hulkenberg 38
12 Max Verstappen 32
13 Felipe Nasr 17
14 Pastor Maldonado 16
15 Carlos Sainz 12
16 Fernando Alonso 11
17 Marcus Ericsson 9
18 Jenson Button 6
19 Roberto Merhi 0
20 Will Stevens 0
21 Alexander Rossi 0
1 Mercedes 506
2 Ferrari 337
3 Williams-Mercedes 208
4 Red Bull-Renault 139
5 Force India-Mercedes 77
6 Lotus-Mercedes 60
7 Toro Rosso-Renault 44
8 Sauber-Ferrari 26
9 McLaren-Honda 17
10 Marussia-Ferrari 0
Next race: Russian Grand Prix, Sochi. October 9-11.