The Formula One world championship battle could have been reignited by a handful of contentious events at the start of the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji.

Despite McLaren's assertions that it would be racing with one eye on the championship, polesitter Lewis Hamilton appeared to hold true to his post-qualifying assertion that he would be 'approaching every race exactly as I have throughout the season', attempting to out-brake the faster-starting Kimi Raikkonen into turn one and cost several drivers to lose early positions.

"I don't think I need to change anything, just keep the car on the road and try and bring it home and score some good points," Hamilton had said after qualifying but, having lost the advantage to the Finn off the line, the Briton cut across the bows of McLaren team-mate Heikki Kovalainen to get to the inside of turn one, whereupon he found himself carrying too much speed into the turn and overshot the apex, forcing not only himself, but also his team-mate and both Ferraris wide.

When the order had shaken itself out, Hamilton was down sixth, with Kovalainen third, Felipe Massa fifth and Raikkonen seventh, as Robert Kubica, Fernando Alonso took full advantage of the chaos.

It wasn't finished there, however, as Hamilton managed to overcome his flat-spotted front tyres and make a pass on main title rival Massa at the turn ten chicane. The Brazilian wasn't about to concede lightly though and, despite having at least two wheels over the inside kerb, attempted to regain the spot immediately.

Almost inevitably, there was contact between the two as Hamilton aimed for the apex, with the result that the McLaren was spun out, dropping the championship leader to the back of the pack. Hamilton opted to pit at the end of the lap, causing concern over the health of his rear suspension, but eventually rejoined, after a slow getaway, in 18th place.

The Briton's position improved as both Timo Glock and Adrian Sutil retired, joining first corner casualty David Coulthard on the sidelines, and Kazuki Nakajima pitted for a new front wing.

Ferrari and McLaren duly waited to hear whether Massa would be penalised for his retaliatory move on Hamilton..... only for both drivers to be hit with drive-thru' punishments, as the stewards also felt the Briton to be guilty of a unacceptable move on Raikkonen at turn one.

The penalties dropped the offending pair to 14th and 15th respectively.

McLaren, meanwhile, suffered a second blow when Kovalainen's engine expired at the same time as the penalties were announced.