Sebastian Vettel had to settle for sixth place in the Italian Grand Prix, with an "aggressive" early stop leaving him powerless to hold off Daniel Ricciardo in the sister Red Bull.

Vettel qualified in eighth, but struggled with tyre degradation - particularly in the latter stages, after he was the first to stop on lap 18 and switch from the medium to hard compound Pirelli tyres.

That left him exposed late on, with Ricciardo passing him in the closing stages, although he did managed to hang on for P6, finishing 1.2 seconds up on Kevin Magnussen - who dropped to tenth post-race with the addition of a 5 second penalty - and 2.6 seconds up on Sergio Perez, who also stopped early.

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"I think that was the most we could do today. On the primes we weren't able to look after the tyres as well as we wanted to," Vettel said.

Asked why he stopped so early, the four-time Formula 1 world champion, replied: "In terms of strategy we wanted to get the McLarens so [that was why] we went aggressive with the early stop, but the tyres started going off at the end."

"All in all that was what we could do today," he reiterated.

Meanwhile, Vettel conceded that the gap to Mercedes remains big: "The target is to get back to the front, at the moment the gap is quite big but we will have to work hard to close it again.

"We have had some difficulties this year, but they can only make us stronger if we learn from them."

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner described the result as "damage limitation".

"We picked two different strategies today, an aggressive one with Sebastian to undercut the McLaren, which worked and gave him track position but unfortunately made his tyres marginal at the end of the race," Horner noted.

"With Daniel [Ricciardo] we took the opposite approach as he was running in clear air. We ran him long in the first stint with a shorter second stint and then his passing moves to come back through the field were truly impressive and obviously with Sebastian struggling with tyre degradation due to the length of the stint, it became inevitable that the two were going to swap positions."

"But fifth and sixth place, at a circuit dominated by Mercedes-powered cars, is damage limitation achieved," Horner confirmed.