Sebastian Vettel was delighted to join Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg on the Australian Grand Prix podium after claiming third place in his first competitive outing with the Ferrari team.
The result marked a turnaround in fortunes for both Vettel and the Scuderia, who endured seasons to forget in 2014 but united over the winter in a bid to offer some opposition to the runaway Silver Arrows. With a better car at his disposal than Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen had last season, the German was able to qualify on the second row of the grid and, after Ferrari used strategy to jump Williams' Felipe Massa for third, brought Vettel his first piece of silverware while in the famous scarlet colours.
“Twelve months ago, I was already at the airport by now,” he reflected, recalling his early retirement from the 2014 Australian Grand Prix, “Different story, obviously, I'm much happier to be here now, finishing the race, seeing the chequered flag. It's a great grand prix, so I think we all like coming here for a start but then, as I said, you cannot really compare, it's a completely different situation.
“Last year, we had a very tough pre-season and, on my side, a very tough first race so, this year, as I said, I've changed teams, there's a lot of new things that I need to learn and I'm not yet on top of which will have to improve in the next couple of races but, for now, I'm very happy.
“It's great - I'm over the moon in many ways. It was great, on the parade lap - and I'm sure the Ferrari flags have been there before, but I didn't pay much attention obviously - to see the support the whole weekend.
“It's really an honour to sit in the red car. Obviously, when your head's down and you race, and you try to push every single lap, then you don't maybe realise the colour so much but, certainly, when the chequered flag came out, it was a great feeling to have a reward for the team. The car this year is a lot better than I think the team had last year, so we can be very happy as a starting point.”
While the gap in qualifying was bigger than many expected, and he came home over 30secs adrift of Hamilton, Vettel insisted that Ferrari may expect better things ahead.
“We are losing a lot of time to those guys [Mercedes] but I think, in a race, we are potentially a little bit closer than in qualifying trim,” he noted, “Overall, it is great - I'm happy and really, really pleased and proud of how the team is tackling the grand prix. The atmosphere is great, the motivation is very high and everyone knows where they want to go, so we want to make sure that life is not easy for those two [Hamilton and Rosberg] this year...”
The four-time world champion's race could have come to another premature end in a frenetic first corner where he appeared to clip Ferrari team-mate Raikkonen but, after that, it was a relatively quiet race, with the only pressure coming at the pit-stop.
“I think it was a great race for us,” he repeated, “Obviously, the start was not ideal - I was very close, but I did not succeed to pass Felipe straight away. I don't know [what happened in turn one]. Kimi had a better start for sure, I got a little bit back on the braking and I think I was side-by-side with him. I don't think it was great for him because he lost a little bit - I saw that immediately - but I couldn't make the corner quite as tight as I wanted to, which made him lose a couple of positions, but I understand we didn't touch and I didn't hit anything.”
“[After that] we had a great strategy and were able to save some tyres to go pretty much the opposite strategy to overtake someone through the pit-stop, so that worked out very well.
“Generally, it has been very calm, very professional, led from the pitwall throughout the race. Of course, it's not a victory but, for us, today, it feels like a victory.”