Lewis Hamilton took a muted Japanese Grand Prix victory after the race was red flagged following an accident for Jules Bianchi.
Hamilton, who started from second, produced a quite magnificent drive to see off the challenge of his Mercedes team-mate and title rival Nico Rosberg in a race that started behind the safety car and was affected by two red flags, prompted by the weather and a late crash. Sebastian Vettel finished third, promoted on count in light of the final red flag.
With torrential rain falling the race got away behind the safety car, only for conditions to be deemed to dangerous to continue after Marcus Ericsson spun off on only the second lap, with red flags being deployed, leading to a short suspension as cars lined up in the pitlane.
With all the drivers now on wet tyres the race resumed from lap three, with the safety car leading Rosberg away, only for Fernando Alonso, running fifth, to stop out on track at Turn 5 with an electrical problem.
With the Ferrari cleared, and the weather conditions improving, the safety car was finally in at the end of lap nine, releasing Rosberg into the lead for the first racing laps of the grand prix.
As Rosberg bolted into an early lead, Jenson Button was an early stopper, switching to the intermediate tyres on lap 10, along with Pastor Maldonado – the pace of the 2009 champion prompting a swathe of early stops, which promoted him to third by lap 14, behind only the Mercedes team-mates, Rosberg retaining his lead from Hamilton after the first round of stops.
As the Mercedes team-mates scampered into the lead again, behind them all attention was on Felipe Massa, who was tumbling down the order, being first swamped by Vettel at the hairpin, closely followed through by Ricciardo after a daring move around the outside of the Williams through the sweeping Esses section.
With the two Red Bulls the fastest cars on track, the pair quickly set about relegating Valtteri Bottas to sixth, Vettel going through at the hairpin, while Ricciardo pulled off another impressive move on the run through the Esses, driving clean around the outside of the Finn’s Williams.
With DRS enabled on lap 24, Hamilton, in second, closed to within striking distance of Rosberg out front, the Englishman bobbing around on the tail of his team-mate before a minor slip up into Turn 1, running wide in a near repeat of the mistake that saw him crash in final practice.
With Rosberg battling with oversteer, Hamilton quickly reined in his team-mate, darting to the left on the run down the start/finish straight before sweeping around the outside of his title rival into Turn 1 to seize the lead, with a quite majestic move.
Hamilton soon set about dropping Rosberg, as Button stopped on lap 32 for a steering wheel swap, dropping behind a flying Vettel via the use of the undercut.
With Vettel setting fastest lap after fastest lap, Rosberg was in on lap 34 to cover his compatriot, rejoining seven seconds ahead of the Red Bull man after his third and final stop.
Hamilton was in for his last scheduled stop two laps later, promoting Ricciardo into a brief lead, but crucially rejoining ahead of Rosberg by just over four seconds.
Despite worries on the Mercedes pit wall that Ricciardo might try to eek out his tyres until the chequered flag, the Australian was in for a fresh set of intermediate tyres on lap 37, elevating Hamilton back into the lead as fresh rain started to fall around the circuit.
Vettel saw his lead over Button in third slashed on lap 38 as he went sliding across the gravel at the Esses, as the rain intensified on track, prompting race control to disable the use of DRS.
With the weather containing to deteriorate a number of drivers opted to swap to wet tyres only for the safety car to be deployed on lap 44 following a crash for Adrian Sutil at Dunlop, prompting the deployment of the safety and medical cars.
While all attention turned to the scene of Sutil’s accident, Vettel was into the pits to swap to a set of wet tyres, dropping behind his team-mate Ricciardo.
The race was brought to a premature end a lap later with the red flags deployed in light of the accident at the Dunlop Curve, where it transpired that Marussia’s Jules Bianchi had also had an accident, colliding with the recovery vehicle clearing Sutil’s Sauber, prompting his transfer to hospital via ambulance.
The field lined up in the pits, only for the race result to be declared minutes later, handing Lewis Hamilton a muted victory from Nico Rosberg, while Sebastian Vettel was promoted to third on countback to the last completed lap.
Daniel Ricciardo was classified as fourth, swapping positions with his team-mate, while Jenson Button finished fifth after producing a fine drive – the Englishman’s early tyre gamble paying off perfectly.
The two Williams’ came home sixth and seventh, Valtteri Bottas in front of Felipe Massa.
Nico Hulkenberg was eighth for Force India, while Jean-Eric Vergne and Sergio Perez rounded out the top ten.
Ferrari failed to score any points as Kimi Raikkonen finished just 12th, while Alonso retired during the opening safety car period.
Image courtesy of Mercedes AMG PETRONAS