Andrea Iannone was forced to fight his way past Marc Marquez on three separate occasions to claim victory in a dramatic Japanese Grand Prix. While the front two disputed the victory, Stefan Bradl provided plenty of entertainment behind as he tried desperately to hold on to his championship lead.
Iannone's first spell in the lead came right at the start as he outdragged Marquez and Thomas Luthi on the run into turn one. Bradley Smith slotted in behind in fourth but an aggressive move from Simone Corsi saw him shuffled back down the order. The FTR rider dived through into turn ten while the loss of momentum allowed Bradl, Dominique Aegerter and Alex de Angelis through, pushing the Briton down to eighth. As the race settled down, Iannone held a half-second lead over Marquez while Corsi and Bradl joined in the action having overtaken Luthi,
The period of calm lasted all of two laps as Marquez regained the lead at the start of lap eight, breezing past Iannone on the start/finish straight but the Speed Master rider wasn't interested in following the leader either. The Italian surged past Marquez into turn three on the ninth lap with Bradl taking third from Corsi in identical circumstances, putting the title challengers in direct competition.
Keen to strike a psychological blow, Bradl put a brave move on Marquez within two corners of passing Corsi. Unfortunately for the German, the advantage was short-lived as a mistake at turn 11 dropped him back into fourth.
That would be the last Bradl saw of Marquez as the top two edged away but Bradl remained intent on limiting the damage to his title bid. With eight laps to go, he finally made the move stick on Corsi to take third and looked well set to hold on to his championship.
The picture changed completely on lap 19 as Iannone mysteriously slowed exiting turn five. Marquez gratefully retook the lead which left Bradl staring at a three point deficit heading to Australia but things would go from bad to worse moments later as Luthi stormed past him into third.
In the end, Bradl was thankful for the aggression shown by Iannone who refused to settle for second. Four laps from home, he outbraked Marquez into turn 11 to take the lead for the third time but on this occasion, Marquez had nothing by way of response and settled for a safe second.
All of this meant Bradl had to finish on the podium to keep himself in the championship lead but the Kalex rider found himself going in the other direction, losing fourth to Corsi on the penultimate lap. The desperation was evident in Bradl's riding style but it finally paid off halfway around the final lap as he forced his way back in front of Corsi, beating him over the line by 0.334s.
Under the circumstances, that may be seen as a relief but Bradl's championship lead, which has remained intact since the opening round in Qatar, has now disappeared with Marquez moving ahead by a single point.
De Angelis finished right behind the German in sixth while Bradley Smith kept his head after the problems of the first lap to take seventh, narrowly beating Dominique Aegerter, Esteve Rabat and Mika Kallio on the final lap.
Scott Redding never featured in the shenanigans in the top ten and the British teenager was left to settle for 20th after a difficult afternoon.