Vettel could only recover to sixth, leaving him 67 points behind race victor Lewis Hamilton - who can now clinch the title at the next race in the United States. Valtteri Bottas held off Verstappen to take second nearly 13 seconds behind Hamilton in a breathless 53-lap race at the fast-flowing Japanese circuit.
The most simple way for Hamilton to win the title would be to replicate the results of the last two races, in Russian Federation and Japan, by leading home Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in a one-two finish.
In fact, it could all be over in two weeks' time at the US Grand Prix in Austin, where a win with Vettel finishing lower than second is all Hamilton needs to seal the deal with three races to spare.
But team principal Wolff has warned Hamilton that despite holding an nearly unassailable points lead the title race is not over - and revealed he did not want to contemplate his star driver breaking a bone.
"The pace was really great and this is definitely the best weekend I've had here and the best feeling I've had here balance-wise, it was really lovely", said the Briton. A poorly calculated overtaking move, however, resulted in the German colliding with the Dutchman and spinning off track and falling to the 18th place as a effect.
That is the news from Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, after the Sochi-Suzuka double header in which Finn Bottas was clearly playing the "number 2" role in support of runaway championship leader Lewis Hamilton.
"I can't wait to unleash this beast in Austin", he added, pointing at his vehicle.
Israelis killed in West Bank shooting
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said troops would soon apprehend the "despicable murderer" and "bring him to justice". The Israeli Defense Forces said they are investigating how the suspect was able to bring a weapon into the industrial park.
" Obviously I have been racing a long, long time, but the happiness I have inside is as high as always".
Standing over his auto, the Briton said: "Austin is usually a good track for us, so I can't wait to unleash this beast there". Red Bull's Max Verstappen was third, 14.295 seconds back. Vettel was left wondering what might have been after a ruining an electric start with an ill-advised attempt to duck inside Verstappen at turn 13.
Vettel should probably consider himself lucky that he escaped further punishment as he could easily have been handed a time penalty at the very least for a unsafe move on Verstappen, similar to what the youngster received after momentarily going off track while being pursued by Kimi Raikkonen.
Hamiton said: "In terms of Sebastian's performance, of course, I didn't expect him to fade away". "That's probably the end of his championship".
"If I don't go for that gap and that gap was there, I might as well go home".
Vettel saw it differently. "I had the speed".
The second Force India of Esteban Ocon came in ninth with Renault's Carlos Sainz Jr 10th. "He didn't give me any room so it was inevitable we would make contact".