Sebastian Vettel believes it would have been a close Formula 1 race between Mercedes and Ferrari in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix had it not been for a badly-timed safety car period that left him with “too much to do”.
Vettel won the opening race of the season in Australia two weeks ago, ending Ferrari’s 18-month win drought, and qualified second in China on Saturday behind pole-man Lewis Hamilton.
Vettel made an early pit stop under the Virtual Safety Car to switch from intermediate tires to slicks, being the first of the leading drivers to do so.
However, a full safety car period gave the likes of Hamilton and Max Verstappen a free stop, leaving Vettel fifth on-track once the race resumed.
The Ferrari driver was able to battle back to second place, finishing six seconds shy of race winner Hamilton, and while he felt his British rival deserved victory in China, he thinks it would have been a closer race without the strategy faux pas.
“I’ll just go with the fact of who won the race, they deserve to win. I think every race we do, the race winner deserves the win,” Vettel said.
“They did a better job. Obviously we were a bit unfortunate with the safety car early on, but if it wasn’t there, you never know how it would’ve impacted on the race. Was it enough? I thought yes, but it’s a long race from there and it could’ve been a different outcome.
“It was really good fun. Obviously I had a bit too much to do in the race than [Hamilton] had, I saw he was controlling the pace probably from the beginning, and then once I got past Kimi [Raikkonen] and Daniel [Ricciardo] I obviously tried to hunt him down but knowing that it would be too difficult with that car.
“In the last couple of laps I asked the team to give me an average on what we needed to catch up, to know what I have to do, and when they came to the conclusion that if it’s a bit more than 0.5 seconds per lap, I would keep pushing. Because you never know if Lewis would make a mistake or has an issue with the car, so I wanted to keep the pressure on.
“I enjoyed the fact we are racing them even if not side by side or right behind each other but 8s apart and we knew he was pushing as well so I think we are matched on pace, probably sometimes a little bit faster. Overall it’s good fun.”
Vettel and Hamilton head to next weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix tied on points at the top of the drivers’ championship, with the Ferrari driver hopeful of being back in the fight for victory.
“I think if we can challenge Mercedes it should be very good news. They’ve had a very very strong run in the last couple of years there,” Vettel said.
“I think we need to look after ourselves and work on the stuff that we can do better, must do better. We can improve so I’m happy if we can surprise them but we have to be patient.”