Having lost a win to Max Verstappen one week earlier, Lewis Hamilton had extra incentive to keep the Red Bull driver behind in the closing stages of the Japanese Grand Prix.
Hamilton held off a late charge from Verstappen, which was aided by a poorly timed encounter with some backmarkers on the narrow Suzuka circuit, to make another big step towards a fourth world championship. The victory came with main title rival Sebastian Vettel retiring in the early stages with engine trouble.
Though Hamilton led away cleanly from pole, Verstappen kept him under pressure for much of the race, but his memory of being passed by the Red Bull driver early in the Malaysian Grand Prix kept Hamilton focussed.
"We were not really having a massive fight out on track but it's pretty clear how quick Max is -- he's done a really good job, really consistent and the last race he was just too quick, today he was quicker but I was just able to manage it somehow at the time," Hamilton said. "I think we're quicker in qualifying but they are at least within a tenth or so of us in the race so yeah today I was like 'you won the last race, I'm not letting you have this one' so it was really just about not making mistakes."
Red Bull was surprisingly competitive on race pace at a circuit it has always excelled at through the first sector, only to struggle in the more power-dependent parts of the circuit which follow. Hamilton thinks he would have struggled had he dropped behind one of the Red Bulls at the start given Mercedes' issues finding peak performance when in turbulent air of another car.
"These guys, they seem to have a bigger wing so slower on the straights but much much quicker through the first two sectors. And particularly if he's right with me then I'm not able to follow, I think if there was someone with me I wouldn't be able to follow, I think it's under-wing for the mid-sector and flying down the straights."
Lance Stroll prompted a late Virtual Safety Car period when his car suffered a puncture and became stranded at an awkward part of the circuit. The slower pace which followed, and the traffic he then encountered in the form of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso, helped Verstappen have a sniff of victory late on.
"I was controlling the pace but towards the end the VSC lost a lot of temperature in the tyres so waking them up was not easy, then I got traffic -- stuck behind Fernando, I think, with Massa at the time, just losing so much time.
"I've never seen [Verstappen's] car so big in my mirrors, just very very close with a couple of laps to go but once I got by [Fernando] just managed to keep it together and it was not an easy walk in the park today. It was very much one we had to work for but great race by Max and I'm enjoying racing with him."