Sebastian Vettel says his pace at the restart of Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix following a safety car period was “too good”, inadvertently costing him the chance to deny Formula 1 title rival Lewis Hamilton victory at Spa.
Vettel qualified second in Belgium and tailed Hamilton for much of the early part of the race, with a small gap emerging entering its final quarter.
A safety car period bunched the leaders again, with Vettel fitting the ultra-soft compound that looked set to give him a pace advantage.
A perfect restart allowed Vettel to draw right up toward Hamilton’s diffuser on the run down to Eau Rouge, only for the German to get too close and have to ease off, costing him straight line speed that may have allowed him to pass at the end of the Kemmel Straight.
Without this edge, Vettel could not find a way through, with Hamilton pulling clear to take his fifth win of the season and cut the gap at the top of the drivers’ championship down to just seven points.
“Obviously I knew that we had a tire advantage with the ultra-softs versus the softs for the first couple of laps and particularly the restart,” Vettel said.
“You could see exiting Turn 1 I was all over Lewis. It was not so hard to follow so close, maybe that was the problem, my restart in the initial part was too good, it was too close.
“For sure if I had to do it again, maybe I would try something different. We know that they have a very good straight line speed, and in qualy mode at the start of the race, I obviously felt how strong they were up the hill on the start. So I didn’t want to be too far either.
“Finding that optimum is difficult. Lewis also lifted a bit going down to Eau Rouge, which I think he could afford because he knows he’s got a very good top-end speed.”
While Hamilton and Vettel were not engaged in much direct battling on-track, the Ferrari driver enjoyed going toe-to-toe with his championship rival.
“Overall it was a very good race, very fun. Obviously not that exciting probably to watch because we were very close but nothing happened,” Vettel said.
“But good fun in the car because I was waiting for him to maybe have an error, he was waiting for me to maybe have an error, an off. It didn’t happen. The quality was very high I thought. Very consistent lap times despite the tires.
“[I] never really had a chance, so maybe half a chance, quarter of a chance. I think the positive thing is that we had very good race pace. It was very difficult to follow in the middle sector, but we stayed close, then we benefitted a little bit in the first and the last sector, but overall the car was very good.”
Ferrari had been expected to struggle at Spa given the similarities with Silverstone, another high-speed circuit, giving Vettel a boost after proving the critics wrong.
“I think we didn’t change too much compared to Silverstone, which shows on the one hand that Silverstone was just a bad weekend,” Vettel said.
“But it shows we improved the car also, especially race pace, very strong when we were on average a second off at Silverstone. So it’s a big step.
“So I’m very, very happy. I think we’re on the right track, and I don’t think we have a circuit we should fear going from now.”