Sebastian Vettel believes Mercedes was right to employ team orders to swap Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas in the Russian Grand Prix — even though that strategy dented his own title aspirations.
Bottas started from pole position and led the race, with Vettel getting ahead of Hamilton during the pit stop phase. However, once the championship leader retook second place into Turn 4, Mercedes then instructed Bottas to move over and Hamilton led home a one-two in a move that Vettel defended.
“Well done to both of them, they played very well together as a team,” Vettel said. “In their defence, all the questions… obviously I know that you guys love controversy and therefore ask some naughty questions to them as individuals but I think in the position they were in it was a no-brainer what they did today so maybe not all the questions are justified.”
Vettel is now the equivalent of two race victories (50 points) adrift of Hamilton and cannot rely on his own results to overturn the deficit this season. But he is not writing his hopes off yet.
“To be honest, I go race by race. Obviously I’m clever enough — I wasn’t a genius in maths — but I was clever enough to pay attention to make it up myself, and it’s not getting easier if we lose points.
“For us, obviously we tried our maximum. I think there was a slim chance to finish ahead of Lewis. I went through the racing bit this afternoon, so we have to be third and settle with that for today. I still believe in our chances; yes, obviously it’s not getting bigger if you finish behind but who knows, it takes one DNF and then all of a sudden things look different – ideally two! – which I’m not wishing on Lewis but you never know what happens.
“So we need to stay on top of our game which maybe we haven’t been completely this weekend: make sure that from where we are now we focus on winning the last races.”
Hamilton originally attacked Vettel on the run to Turn 2 before overtaking him at Turn 4, but the Ferrari’s defense caused Hamilton to complain. The stewards investigated the incident but took no further action, and Vettel says he actually felt he raced fairly with his title rival when he could have been more aggressive.
“I had a bit of a wobble into 13, locked up and Lewis was quite close so he got DRS down the straight. I saw him coming, it was very difficult to see with the mirrors but I thought I moved before the braking, so I wanted to make sure I covered the inside. I didn’t mean to be an irritation at any point.
“Obviously I had a compromised run out of the second corner, defending my position. Then it was very difficult to see where he was. I couldn’t see him for a very long time and then just saw his tires and I knew that he was then somewhere there and I didn’t want to be a complete arse by pushing him into the dirt and potentially into the wall so I wasn’t quite sure where he was and then at some point I had to give in.
“I thought I could maybe get it back out of Turn 4 but I had to give him the entrance otherwise at some stage it just becomes silly. Obviously I wasn’t happy when I lost the position but I think we did what we could today.”