AUSTIN, Texas – The sign of the good season Sebastian Vettel has had, his first with Scuderia Ferrari, is that a day where he rocketed from 14th on the grid up to third by the checkered flag has served as a “down day.”
Vettel started 14th following a power unit change and a subsequent 10-grid spot penalty. However by Lap 10, he was already up to sixth place.
What appeared to be a strategic masterstroke – switching onto Pirelli’s medium compound prime tires by Lap 29, with the top four ahead of him, Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat all on softs – wound up coming unglued later in the race when two different Safety Car periods (one Actual, one Virtual) allowed the Mercedes AMG Petronas pair to come in for fresher tires.
Vettel and Hamilton pitted on the same lap after the Safety Car period when Daniil Kvyat crashed out. Vettel was able to switch onto softs and while he at least had the same tires as the Mercedes pair ahead of him, he was unable to hunt down either Hamilton or Rosberg in the final stages.
A valiant effort saw the German come up just short of his countryman for second, and thus lose the World Championship at that moment because he’d lost 10 points to Hamilton. He needed to stay within nine to keep his remote mathematical hopes alive heading into the Mexican Grand Prix next week.
“We have a great car. But it doesn’t feel great when you cross the line and know you can’t fight for the World Championship anymore,” Vettel told Sir Elton John on the podium, with Sir Elton conducting the podium interviews.
“Congrats to Lewis and his team. We’re getting closer.”
Vettel expanded on his missed opportunities during the post-race press conference.
Of the call to switch to mediums when they did, Vettel said it was the right thing to do.
“It made our chance last as long as possible,” he said. “But it was a shame to lose out.”
Vettel hailed Hamilton though once more during the press conference. Hamilton’s third World Championship puts him one shy of Vettel, who won four consecutive from 2010 to 2013 with Red Bull.
“It was a season we could have done better, but we squeezed out what we could. We want to be fighting for the World Championship.
“This is Lewis’ day. Congrats to him.”