Lewis Hamilton blamed wheelspin for the terrible start that teed up Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg for a significant victory at the Japanese Grand Prix.
Hamilton dropped from second to eighth thanks to a woefully slow start, but recovered well to eventually finish third behind Red Bull's Max Verstappen.
However, the result leaves Hamilton 33 points behind Rosberg in the drivers' standings, meaning even victory in each of the four remaining races may not necessarily be enough for the Briton to defend his crown.
"I'm happy with clawing it back and getting some points, it's good," Hamilton told Sky Sports.
"I just got some wheelspin - I'm not really sure, I need to see what the engineers say.
"I'm looking forward to getting home and on to the next race."
Mercedes wrapped the constructors' title for a third successive year with their performance at Suzuka.
"The team did a fantastic job," added Hamilton. "A big congratulations to everyone back at the factories.
"To have three years in a row of success, I'm very proud to be part of it and happy I can contribute to it."
Hamilton endured a turbulent week in the build-up to Sunday's race. Following an engine blowout in Malaysia last weekend, the three-time champion faced criticism at Suzuka for a perceived lack of respect when he spent the drivers' press conference playing on Snapchat.