Sebastian Vettel has admitted that heading into the unknown with tyres at the Belgian Grand Prix played against his new-found aim of minimising risks in pursuit of a second F1 championship title.
The German was 85-points clear of the field heading to Spa-Francorchamps and, knowing that he did not need to win another race in 2011 to clinch the crown, was determined not to take any unnecessary risks at one of the more formidable venues left on the schedule. However, when several of the frontrunners suffered blistering on their Pirelli tyres in qualifying, he admits that it added another, unpleasant, dimension to the race.
"We had a lot of concerns going into the race after the damage we had on the tyres from qualifying, so we weren't quite sure [what would happen]," he confirmed, "We took quite a lot of risk. We had reason to be confident that it should be fine, but you never really know and there is no-one walking up and down in the paddock giving you a guarantee.
"We didn't feel too comfortable and both of us stopped fairly early, right at the beginning of the race. The main target was to see how the tyres were after a couple of laps and to go from there. [We were] not thinking too much about the outcome but, surprisingly, the pace was very, very good in the race. I was feeling very comfortable in the car and, without too much effort in the beginning, I was able to keep up with the guys and get back into the lead.
"I think that, in that regard, [the safety car] helped us as much as it helped other people, [such as] Fernando [Alonso], who was in the lead, to give his tyres a break, which allowed him to make his set last longer. Obviously, I was able to conserve the peak of the tyre and use it a bit longer afterwards but, as I say, others gained some advantage and could cool down the tyres a bit as well.
"It was pretty scary to go around with blistering issues. It's not very comfortable, especially on the way down to Eau Rouge and then through Blanchimont, when you really look at the tyre and it doesn't look like being in great shape. You feel quite a lot of vibrations [and], if you ask anybody on the grid, we all suffered the same kind of problems. I followed Nico [Rosberg] at some stage at the end of his first stint, and he had the same problem on the front left. It's not really the idea, because it's driving into the unknown and it's not comfortable for us because, in the end, we sit in the car.
"The alternative would have been to change the set-up and start from the pit-lane. Maybe it would have been a completely different race, but we took that risk. We had some long discussions straight after qualifying, yesterday night, and this morning. Now we are sitting here, it all went well and we finished one-two, but it wasn't an easy decision to make and not an easy race, especially at the beginning, to manage.
"You are driving into the unknown. No-one has really had a lot of laps around here, in particular on Friday with the conditions, so everyone was a bit in the same boat. Those [top] ten cars in qualifying got a little bit of an idea. For some it turned out to be a problem, for others not - I saw [from] the cars I passed, people who thought they might not run into any problems had the same problems as we did, so we need to learn from that and see for the next races."
Mindful of the fact that he appeared to have jeopardised his chances of the 2010 world title when he collided with, and retired, the McLaren of Jenson Button, Vettel revealed that he was being extra careful when it came to pulling off passing moves this year, even though his early stop had dropped him down the order and behind potential title rivals Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. He was also forced to pass Button later in the race, after the Briton ran a long middle stint on the harder tyres, and Vettel confessed that he had picked his passing spot with care.