Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel collected his ninth win of the season at Suzuka, but was forced to work hard for the victory thanks to feisty performances from his team-mate Mark Webber and Lotus driver Romain Grosjean.
Maximum points propelled the victorious German to within touching distance of a fourth consecutive world championship, although a solid fourth place for Ferrari's Fernando Alonso kept the points fight mathematically alive for another race.
On Saturday Webber had pipped his Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel to pole position, but Grosjean, who qualified fourth, sliced past both to lead into the first corner.
Lewis Hamilton's race was effectively over on the sprint to the first corner. He made an excellent getaway and squeezed into a narrowing gap between Webber and Vettel, but the slightest of contact with the Red Bull's front wing punctured Hamilton's right-rear tyre. The Briton limped back to the pits for a replacement tyre, but later retired with handling issues.
Grosjean coolly controlled the race through the first round of pit stops, but he was unable to pull more than a couple of seconds clear of Webber, with Vettel maintaining a watching brief in third position.
Webber closed to within one second of Grosjean as the race approached halfway, but peeled into the pits for more new tyres before he had chance to attack. It was a comparatively early stop that put him onto a three-stop plan, but it soon became clear tha the Red Bull team had put its cars on split strategies; third-placed Vettel had conserved his second set of tyres well and was opting for just two stops. He remained out on track and began to take chunks out of the Frenchman's lead.