Sebastian Vettel insists he didn’t see Lewis Hamilton as a threat for victory in the Brazilian Grand Prix despite the world champion’s recovery through the field.
Hamilton crashed in Q1 without setting a time on Saturday and started the race from the pit lane after Mercedes gave him a new power unit for the final two races. The move paid off, with the reverse strategy to the front-runners – running the soft tire at the start and switching to supersofts late on – seeing him close on Kimi Raikkonen in the final five laps and challenge for third place.
Asked if he felt under threat from his fellow four-time world champion – Hamilton finished 5.4s behind Vettel after being held off by Raikkonen – the German replied: “Not really.
“Obviously I saw him pitting just in front of me so he had to make up that pit stop but I think it’s not the first time this year that we’ve seen that the mirror strategy has some advantages. Obviously it’s not very attractive if you’re starting in the front but it can be very attractive when you’re out of position which he was. So you obviously have an advantage.
“I think the track ramped up in the end and the supersoft was clearly the faster tire but overall it’s fair to say that Lewis was very quick. I think for us, as I said yesterday, it was nice to see that we were that close in qualifying trim.
“Also, we have to be fair to ourselves, we’re losing in the straights. Obviously that was … even enhanced with Valtteri [Bottas] in the tow at some point in the race, I was told that we were half a second faster in the middle sector but obviously losing quite a lot on the straight and more or less we did the same lap times for the whole race. It was very close.
“Obviously also, when you’re close, in Valtteri’s position, then you lose a little bit in the middle sector and you gain a little bit in the tow so difficult to say. But no, I don’t think he was really a threat. Obviously they told me at some point that he’s catching up with Kimi but I knew that it would be quite difficult to get past.”
And Vettel credits his start as the key moment in the race, having forced his way past polesitter Bottas at Turn 1 to take the lead.
“Initially I had a very good getaway and then I had a bit of wheelspin, so I thought, ‘ah, I missed my chance.’ But I think Valtteri was struggling even more off the line, so I really had a chance to squeeze down the inside. I think I surprised him a bit, which obviously was crucial.
“After that, I think we were pushing, after the Safety Car, for the remaining 65 laps flat out. I was really trying to give everything to pull a little bit of a gap, to control the race from there.”