Vettel ‘unfortunate’ on safety car, feels Hamilton deserved China F1 win

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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.”

Hamilton tops second Abu Dhabi F1 practice with new track record

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Lewis Hamilton swept to the top of the timesheets in second Formula 1 practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Friday evening, beating Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel by one-tenth of a second.

Hamilton trailed Vettel through the daytime-run opening practice session, but managed to strike back by recording a new track record at the Yas Marina Circuit for Mercedes.

Hamilton recorded a fastest lap time of 1:37.877 to finish one-tenth of a second clear of Vettel at the checkered flag, appearing to have an edge across a single lap on the ultra-soft tire.

Red Bull threw its hat into the ring as a possible rival for pole through Daniel Ricciardo, who finished the session third-fastest, three-tenths of a second back from Hamilton at the head of the field.

Kimi Raikkonen ended FP2 in fourth place in the sister Ferrari, finishing within half a second of Hamilton, and managed to edge out fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas, who was a further two-tenths back in P5.

Max Verstappen failed to get in a quick flying lap during FP2, ending the session one second down in P6 for Red Bull.

Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon’s tight intra-team fight at Force India continued through FP2 as the pair were separated by just 0.01 seconds, taking seventh and eighth respectively to finish as the leading midfield drivers.

Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso completed the top 10 for Renault and McLaren, with Felipe Massa following in 11th for Williams on his final Friday appearance in F1.

Massa was fortunate to avoid an accident with Ricciardo during the final 15 minutes of the session after a mix up at the hairpin when the Brazilian tried to get a wider line for the back straight.

Running in Abu Dhabi continues with final practice at Yas Marina on Saturday morning from 5am ET on the NBC Sports app, followed by qualifying at 8am ET on NBCSN.