Japanese Grand Prix – Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel says he was surprised to find himself back in front of Lewis Hamilton in the closing laps of the race.
Sebastian Vettel finished the Japanese GP in P2, having been the polesitter for the race. A mistake off the line allowed Valtteri Bottas to jump into the lead, while Lewis Hamilton’s tyre strategy meant the reigning Champion led the race with just over ten laps to go and question marks over whether he would pit again.
Hamilton did end up pitting again, meaning he came out five seconds behind Sebastian Vettel. While he tried his best, he wasn’t able to overtake Vettel and the Ferrari driver said afterwards he was surprised that Hamilton had pitted again and gave up track position.
“I was surprised when they pitted to be honest. I expected him to stay out and try the one stop.” said Vettel. “Once I knew that.. also before, Valtteri was so far away and we were not fast and it was not possible to catch him, so when he came out I was not rushing to open the gap, I was just trying to keep my tyres somehow fresh to make sure that if he arrives then everything is still in good shape and I have the chance to have good corner exits and play the advantage we have down the straights, which worked.”
“It got a bit close once with traffic but other than that I think it was quite good. I was quite quite happy when I saw the chequered flag. I didn’t want to do another five laps like that. But I knew obviously in the places where you can’t pass I can take it easy to try to maintain the tyres a little bit.”
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Vettel almost jumped the start of the race, moving his car in his grid slot just before the lights went out. He stopped the car immediately and there was an investigation into whether he jumped the start. The stewards ruled his move had been within the tolerance limits as he never left his grid slot, meaning Vettel’s only disadvantage was his lack of momentum costing him the lead. He held his hands up for the error, saying: “Well obviously I had a poor start so I lost quite a lot of momentum when the lights go off. A mistake on my side. I had it in my hands, literally, to perform a good start – normally starts are really strong – but obviously today we didn’t get it right.”
“After that we knew it was going to be a difficult race. Overtaking isn’t straightforward here and obviously in terms of pace it was very difficult. We could see in the first stint that Valtteri was just quicker, especially towards the end, and then Lewis was catching. He was basically very close to me when we pitted, so I think overall we got the strategy right to stay ahead. I don’t know if… maybe they didn’t get it entirely right. But not the day we wanted if you start first and second. I don’t know where Charles finished. Sixth? Did he? So second and sixth.”
Vettel’s P2 wasn’t sufficient to keep his championship hopes, however slim, alive. This means that only Valtteri Bottas or Lewis Hamilton can now win the driver’s championship.