The race turned on the decision of Mercedes team managers who told Bottas to let Hamilton pass him and take the lead.
The 29-year-old Finn was then charged with ensuring his own place in second and preventing Vettel from overtaking him.
The tactic meant that Hamilton claimed 25 points for the winning the race. Bottas collected 18 and Vettel 15 points.
“As racing drivers, we exist to win,” said Hamilton in an interview with Sky Sports. “ If you tell us we can’t win, it’s taking out air away. It’s taking our life away. It’s not how I want to win.
“The team took the decision. There are stronger heads in the team who say we have to win and there are those of us who are racers and emotional about it. It’s a win on my list of wins that I’m least proud of.”
With races left in Japan, the United States, Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi, time is running out for Vettel to make up the deficit and prevent Hamilton from winning a fifth world championship.