Sebastian Vettel says he was never concerned Lewis Hamilton might catch him for victory in the Brazilian GP, although conceded Mercedes probably had the faster car.
Nearly four months after claiming Ferrari’s previous win, Vettel took advantage of Hamilton’s crash in qualifying and resultant pit-lane start to beat the other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas to victory after getting ahead at the start.
Vettel was never more than 3.1 seconds ahead of the Finn, and nearly lost the lead at the one round of pit-stops, but generally appeared to have the race under control.
However, at one point in the closing stages it looked as though Hamilton could yet have an unlikely say in the outcome as he charged through to fourth place on an alternate strategy.
But asked if he was ever concerned Hamilton might cause him a problem, Vettel said: “Not really.
“Obviously I saw him pitting just in front of me [after running a long first stint] so he had to make up that pit stop but it’s not the first time this year we have seen a mirrored strategy has some advantages.
Sky F1's Paul di Resta is at the Skypad to look at all the major talking points of the Brazilian GP, won by Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel.
“It’s not very attractive if you’re starting at the front but it can be very attractive when you’re out of position which he was. So you obviously have an advantage.
“The track ramped in the end and the supersoft was clearly the faster tyre, but overall it’s fair to say Lewis was very quick.”
He added: “But I don’t think he was really a threat.”
Vettel wins despite Hamilton charge
WATCH: Mayhem on the first lap
Massa: Brazil farewell like a victory
With five laps to go Hamilton was just 4.7 seconds behind Vettel and lapping significantly faster, but the world champion locked up at Turn One when chasing the other Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen and his challenge faded, eventually finishing eight tenths behind the Finn in fourth.
But, as he chased down the top four into the closing laps, Hamilton admitted it did briefly cross his mind that a remarkable victory attempt could be on.
“When I could see that actually Sebastian’s only a few seconds up I like ‘well…!’, said Hamilton, with a smile.
“But unfortunately I didn’t have any life left in the tyres.”
Nonetheless, with his rival having started from the pit lane, Vettel accepted the pace of the Mercedes was impressive and probably better than Ferrari’s.
“I think it would be fair to say Mercedes were a bit quicker,” he told Sky Sports F1. “Lewis was probably quicker in race trim but then he had a mirrored strategy. Nevertheless it was really close, it was a tough one.
“Both [Ferrari] cars on the podium so very happy.”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, meanwhile, hailed Hamilton’s drive as “the best fourth-place finish I have ever seen”.
“It was one of his best performances of the year and showed that we had the quickest car here by a good margin,” Wolff added. “He threw everything at it today and it was a champion’s drive.”
Winter ‘fillip’ for Ferrari
Vettel’s victory was Ferrari’s first since the summer break and ended an eight-race winless run dating back to July.
“We’ve always had the performance available,” said Jock Clear, Ferrari’s senior performance engineer. “We’ve always been there or thereabouts in Qualifying and race pace.
“The things that went on in Malaysia and Japan put us on the back foot. The pace has always been there and today, we had a quick car and were able to stay ahead of Bottas and control the pace.
“Racing is not just about how quick your car is, it’s about getting around all the laps as fast as you can. We take every day and today we got the win so we’ll enjoy it.
“It’s a good fillip to go into the winter and coming back next year even stronger.”
Vettel’s fifth victory of the season means he is nearly guaranteed to finish second to Hamilton in the Drivers’ Championship. He increased his lead over Bottas to 22 points with the Finn now needing to win the Abu Dhabi finale on November 26 and hope Vettel finishes ninth or lower.
Don’t miss the F1 Report on Wednesday at 8.30pm on Sky F1 as Williams co-founder Sir Patrick Head joins Marc Priestley and Natalie Pinkham to review the Brazilian GP.
Comment below to get involved in the debate, but please adhere to our House Rules. If you wish to report any comment, simply click on the down arrow next to the offending comment and click ‘Report’.