Sebastian Vettel admits he was surprised Mercedes did not leave Lewis Hamilton out in the lead of the Japanese Grand Prix after beating the championship leader to second place.
Hamilton was running third behind teammate Valtteri Bottas and Vettel but ran a longer first stint as the two drivers ahead of him committed to a two-stop strategy. In the lead after the second stops, Hamilton was also called in for a later second stop rather than being allowed to try and make it to the end of the race on mediums, and Vettel was expecting the one-stop strategy to be attempted.
“I was surprised when they pitted, to be honest,” Vettel said. “I expected him to stay out and try the one stop. 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 (Hamilton) came out I was not rushing to open the gap, I was just trying to keep my tires 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 checkered 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 tires a little bit.”
Hamilton, however, says he couldn’t have made it to the end unless Mercedes had informed him he was only stopping once earlier in the race, as he took too much life out of his tires chasing down the cars in front.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Hamilton said. “The team put me on a two-stop, so I knew already when they put the medium on, that was going to be the case.
“With better guidance I think I probably could have (gone to the end). They said, when they put the tire on, that we are going a two-stop because the degradation is high. That was just the direction I was given in terms of having to try and close the gap to Seb. Every time I was having to close this gap, so used the tires quite a lot.
“So, in how I was using them, there was no way I was going to make it to the end on that. If I had, from the beginning, said we’re just going to eke it out and just see if we could manage it, then I could have just driven differently and, potentially, held it to the end — but all in hindsight.”