The victory, by a commanding 22 seconds at the checkered flag, was the 11th of the young Dutchman’s career.
“It was very difficult there, especially at the beginning to stay on the track to be honest it was very slippery,” he said of a race which started with most of the intermediate drivers. but some in full rain.
Hamilton, the season opener in Bahrain, landed a crucial bonus point for the fastest lap on a roller coaster afternoon for the seven-time world champion, whose race was nearly destroyed by a rare error.
The Briton started on pole, his 99th, but fell from second to ninth after skidding through gravel and pushing barriers at Tosa with his car stationary and an imminent retirement.
He kept the engine running, reversed, returned to the pits and made his way to the podium with a touching recovery workout after the race was stopped and restarted halfway through.
“For me, these weren’t the best days, it’s the first time I’ve made a mistake in a long time. But I’m grateful that I was able to bring the car home today,” said Hamilton. .
McLaren’s Lando Norris completed the top three for the first time two British drivers have climbed the podium together since 2012.
Hamilton now has 44 points against 43 for Verstappen, with Norris on 23. Mercedes remained at the top of the constructors’ table with 60 points against 53 for Red Bull.
Verstappen took the lead around the second corner on the first lap, forcing his way with a great start from third on the grid, but making contact with the Mercedes as he went.
The race was cut short by debris after a big collision between Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, who started eighth, and Williams’ George Russell on lap 32 in a battle for ninth place.
There had been a lot of chaos before that, with Canadian Nicholas Latifi crushing his Williams in barriers and plenty of laps elsewhere.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was fourth and his Spanish teammate Carlos Sainz was fifth, with McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo sixth.
Canadian Lance Stroll finished seventh for Aston Martin with Pierre Gasly of AlphaTauri eighth and Kimi Raikkonen ninth for Alfa Romeo.
Frenchman Esteban Ocon took the last point for Alpine.
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