Sebastian Vettel has defended Ferrari’s decision to delay his final pit stop and put him on the soft tyre at the end of the Japanese Grand Prix, despite ultimately losing out to Lewis Hamilton for third place at Suzuka.
Lining up sixth on the grid due to the penalty he was carrying over from Malaysia, Vettel enjoyed a strong opening lap, gaining two positions at the start before overtaking Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo on the approach of the fearsome 130R corner.
“We had different plans for the strategy, we obviously had a great start, made good progress in the first couple of laps, gaining a few positions. I think we tried everything to put [second-placed] Max [Verstappen] under pressure.
“He reacted by pitting a bit earlier, all the time, in both stops and we obviously didn’t have the freedom in the second stop, as we would pit into traffic with Ricciardo. Max could, because in the worst case scenario he could pass Daniel very easily.
“It was at that point we decided to go longer in order to come back at the end of the race.”
Despite leading fourth-placed Hamilton by several seconds before his last stop, Vettel re-joined the fray behind the Mercedes.
He still hoped to regain third position thanks to his fresher rubber. But after pressuring Hamilton for a couple of laps, the 29-year-old could no longer keep apace.
“Unfortunately the way it turned out the soft tyre didn’t last very long… But if you look at the position at the end to Lewis, I don’t think there was anything we could have done to hold him because the gap to the podium ultimately too big.
“In the end, with what we tried to do, which I think was the right thing to take the risk and try to make it work.
“That’s how it goes, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, [Hamilton] seemed to always clear the cars on the straights whereas I was pretty often stuck for the majority of the first sector or the middle part of the track and lost quite a bit of time.”