It was not the day at the office that Mercedes had been hoping for, as they continue to battle with Ferrari and Lotus over the runners-up positions in both the drivers and constructors' world championships.

The Japanese Grand Prix did the team few favours, with Lewis Hamilton retiring early as a result of damage sustained in a first corner collision with Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull, and Nico Rosberg's solid run in fourth place being undone by an issue at the first pit stop that saw him handed a drive-thru penalty that dropped him out of the top ten.

"I got a fantastic start this afternoon, better than both Red Bulls for probably the first time this year," said Hamilton of the first seconds of the race. He thought he saw an opportunity to split the two slow-starting Red Bulls on the front row and make a bid for the lead, and he wasn't afraid to go for it.

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"Mark moved right, so I had to move as well, which sandwiched Sebastian between me and Romain," he recalled. "Seb's front wing clipped my right rear, cut the tyre and that was that. It wasn't his fault at all, just one of those things that wasn't meant to be this afternoon."

Hamilton limped back to the pit road for new tyres, but the damage to the underfloor of the Mercedes had already been done. With the car pulling to the right and rear brake temperatures climbing precipitously, Hamilton was finally called in again a few laps later to park the car and have an early day.

"I feel most gutted for the team - the guys here at the track and in the factory - because they are doing an amazing job right now and we're just not getting the reward for it," sighed Hamilton.

That left the team's fortunes on the shoulders of Nico Rosberg, but after a solid start running behind early race leader Romain Grosjean and the two Red Bulls, his first pit stop ended with an unsafe release right in front of the exiting McLaren of Sergio Perez. It didn't take the race stewards long to hand down a drive-thru that saw Rosberg plunge to 12th place and put him on the back foot for the rest of the afternoon.

"I made a good start today and was in a strong position until my first pit stop," described Rosberg. "Unfortunately we then had the incident as I left the pit box which ultimately cost me a top position. We will analyse internally with the team what went wrong but it was immediately clear that we would get a penalty.

"After that, we switched to a three-stop strategy and that worked out as well as it could for us," he continued. "I was able to do some good overtaking manoeuvres."

Rosberg clashed with Perez again later in the race when the two men made contact on lap 44, which ended with Perez slicing his left rear tyre on Rosberg's end plate. "I wasn't happy with Perez," admitted Rosberg of the incident.

"It's not good what he's doing, we know he has issues. If you move once to block you have to move out of the way, the rules are clear," Rosberg added. "It was very good he punctured his tyre and then it was just onward from there."

In the final laps of the race, Rosberg ended up running behind the two Saubers, and their superior traction thwarted his efforts to pass: "Trying to overtake the Sauber at the end was very tough and while it's difficult to be satisfied with eighth place given our potential, at least we were able to salvage some points."

"A tough afternoon for us which was made more frustrating by the fact that we had a good car today and unfortunately did not get the opportunity to demonstrate that," summed up team principal Ross Brawn. "Our lap times were pretty competitive and the tyre durability was good but for various reasons, we weren't able to race well."

Brawn said he was puzzled by the lapse in the team's pit procedures that had resulted in the drive-thru. "We're normally a pretty reliable team in the pits and I don't fully understand what happened yet but we will investigate and take any necessary actions."

Brawn insisted that there was still everything to play for in the constructors championship heading into the final Grand Prix races of 2013.

"I still believe we have the potential to finish the season in second place in the Constructors' Championship," he said. "But we have to use the potential of the car to the full in the four remaining races to achieve that aim."

"Looking to the last four races, I will just be going out there to enjoy them and score as many points as I can for the team," added Hamilton for his part. "I still believe that second in the constructors championship is in our reach if our luck takes a turn for the better - and that's what we will all be aiming for."