Sebastian Vettel stormed to victory at Suzuka on Sunday to cut Fernando Alonso’s title lead to just four points.
The German led from lights to flag as first corner chaos once again forced Alonso to retire, Kimi Raikkonen, causing the Spaniard a puncture.
His Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa scored his first podium in over two years to finish second and boost his hopes of a contract extension for next season.
Home hero Kamui Kobayashi delighted the Japanese fans as he went on to claim his first ever podium finish, proving too quick for Jenson Button in fourth.
Lewis Hamilton drove a quiet race in fifth to beat the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen, while Nico Hulkenberg and Pastor Maldonado posted decent points finishes.
Mark Webber was ninth after colliding with Romain Grosjean on the first lap. The Australian was forced to pit and was unable to close up to the leaders.
Daniel Ricciardo in the Toro Rosso scored a solid tenth place finish to snatch the last of the points.
Vettel pulled away cleanly at the lights but several incidents took place behind the German heading into turn one.
Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso raced side by side before slight contact meant Alonso’s race was over.
Romain Grosjean then spun Mark Webber to receive a ten-second stop-go penalty. The severity of the punishment comes after repeated incidents on the opening lap of grand prix’s this year, involving Grosjean. Massa and Hamilton capitalised on the incident, moving them several places up from their original grid slots.
Vettel’s win is his third of the season and the German now sits in good stead to challenge for his third world championship: “I knew behind me there was a crash and I saw a Ferrari was out but wasn’t sure which,” he said.
“Halfway through I was looking to see the others and I saw Felipe, I didn’t know what happened to Fernando.
“The atmosphere has been unbelievable all weekend. There has been so much support, the stands have been full and that really makes our job feel very special.
“When you’re dreaming at night, you dream one day about racing a car like that. The balance was so good and that’s why there was a gap to behind.”
Alonso’s lead sits at just four points with five races remaining and the current shortcomings of the Ferrari mean Vettel is now odds on for glory: “Kimi touched me a little bit on the rear of the car and I had a puncture,” Alonso said.
“It is a little sad but we need to concentrate and think about [the next race in Korea] next week.
“We need to keep working well and not making mistakes. Nothing we can do. Thanks to this consistency we are leading the championship. The others make mistakes, we need to avoid this.”