He may have put on a smiling face for the cameras afterwards, but beneath his happy facade there was little doubt that Sebastian Vettel was a frustrated man at the end of the Turkish Grand Prix – frustrated that a failure to change his strategy had cost him second place and arguably even a shot at victory.
Starting from pole position around the technically challenging, physically demanding and undulating Istanbul Park Circuit – one of only three anti-clockwise tracks on the Formula 1 calendar – the Red Bull Racing star had two records to uphold, with the pole-sitter having never failed to win in all four previous editions of the race and having triumphed in both of the other two grands prix in which he had started from the top spot on the grid, in Shanghai earlier this year and his breakthrough success for Scuderia Toro Rosso at Monza last September.
Records, though, as Jenson Button will tell you, are there to be broken – and a mistake midway around the opening lap of the grand prix effectively marked the beginning of the end of Vettel's bid for glory, as Button shot past into the lead. His bolt for second place was subsequently similarly shot when the team chose to keep him on a three-stop strategy rather than switch him over to two, despite the three-stopper having depended upon the 21-year-old pulling clear in his first stint.
That put him under pressure to pass Button on the race track – something he was unable to do, despite visibly trying hard – and left him behind team-mate Mark Webber once the final pit-stops had all shaken out. Though he went on to chase down the sister car and was clearly the quicker of the two in the closing laps, the man from Heppenheim was instructed over his pit-to-car radio to hold station – a situation that has allowed Webber to close to within just 1.5 points in the drivers' title standings, and one that has dealt a further blow to Vettel's own already fading chances of clinching the crown, now a full 32 points adrift of the lead.
“The start worked out okay,” recounted the top flight's youngest-ever winner. “I was ahead, but then I nearly lost the car in turns nine and ten on the first lap. It was my mistake; it was extremely difficult there and I nearly did the same on the second lap. It was quite tricky, but I think without that there wouldn't have a big difference [anyway], as Jenson was too quick today.
“After that I thought the strategy might swap to a two-stop plan, but it didn't. I got caught behind Jenson who was heavier in the second stint, and that allowed Mark to get ahead. Nonetheless, a good result for the team and I think we can be satisfied with second and third.”
Webber, by contrast, was rather more pleased with his own result – his third rostrum finish of the campaign and the best outcome possible on a day when the world championship leader was just too far out of reach, or as the plain-speaking Australian termed it, 'on another planet'. It was a solid drive, and another riposte to his detractors who had suggested that the New South Wales native would be blown into the weeds by Vettel this year.
“A good race,” the 32-year-old summarised. “I knew I had to hang in there for as long as possible in the first stint. It worked out pretty well and I managed to go a lap longer and save fuel, which helped me gain some time. I knew Sebastian's strategy and that I was in with a sniff of getting a podium finish. Both Sebastian and I knew that first place was gone and it was about who would finish behind Jenson – he was on another planet!
“The second stint was therefore crucial; I had to push really hard. When you're on a different strategy, the other guy is almost invisible until after the pit-stops, but it turned out well for us and my engineer kept me updated with what was happening. I did enough in the middle stint to be able to jump Sebastian at the pit-stops. Then, at the end we turned the engine down and brought the car home.”