Sebastian Vettel was happy to answer Ferrari’s critics by finishing third in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, rounding out the 2016 Formula 1 season with a podium.
Vettel and Ferrari had been expected to take the fight to Mercedes after an impressive first year working together in 2015, only for the pace of the SF16-H car to leave the Italian marque third in the pecking order as Red Bull moved ahead.
Vettel qualified fifth in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, but made a risky strategy work well to go on a late charge with the super-soft tires fitted, battling his way up to third place in the closing stages.
Vettel was in with a shot of taking Ferrari’s first win in over a year as race leader Lewis Hamilton tried back Nico Rosberg up in a last-ditch attempt to claim the championship, only to fall 1.4 seconds shy at the checkered flag.
“It was tough out there, the last couple of laps. I didn’t want to be in his shoes,” Vettel said, referring to newly-crowned champion Rosberg.
“I was trying to get close and have another go. I thought why not pass both of them if Lewis is going that slow in front! It was difficult, my tires were also dropping towards the end.
“Bit stuck at the beginning of the race. I was starting to get a bit frustrated. Once I had clean air, I could really unleash the pace that we had today.”
For Vettel, the result acted as an answer to many of his own and Ferrari’s critics in a season that has seen the Italian marque come under fire for not pushing Mercedes at the front.
“I think the whole team deserves the podium today. We’ve worked so hard,” Vettel said.
“We’ve had so much criticism this year, sometimes right, sometimes not justified. That’s how it goes, it’s a tough game. We’re fighting really tough opponents.
“It’s been a tough year but obviously it’s nice to finish on a high. We take that momentum into next year.”
The result also clinched fourth place in the drivers’ championship for Vettel, beating Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by eight points in the final standings.