Sebastian Vettel insists that Ferrari tried all it could to take the fight to Mercedes in the Chinese Grand Prix, but ultimately had to settle for another podium finish instead of victory.
Buoyed by the German's success in Malaysia two weeks ago, the Scuderia hoped that its better race pace and tyre usage might allow it to fight with the world champions but, although it remained in touch through to the opening round of pit-stops, Vettel was ultimately unable to challenge second-placed Nico Rosberg, let alone eventual winner Lewis Hamilton.
“I think we tried all we could, but I don't think it was within range to do a one-stop or three-stop as both were slower,” he said when asked whether it would have been possible to alter strategy in the race, “The two-stop was fairly straightforward for everyone and I think we tried to be as aggressive as we could be.”
Stopping before the Mercedes at the first round of stops, Ferrari opted to fit Vettel's car with another set of the softer 'option' tyre in the hope that he could use them to jump Rosberg, but the Mercedes emerged still in front after his stop. Second time around, Vettel was again the first to stop, hoping to undercut his countryman, but that decision left him with a long run to the flag on the medium rubber.
“I tried to be very aggressive,” he repeated, “I wasn't sure, [with] 27 laps on the prime, if we should try it, but I guess we wanted to put pressure on Nico. But that obviously makes the last stint very long and, at the end, naturally, we began to struggle with the tyres. [Ferrari team-mate] Kimi [Raikkonen] was able to stay out a bit longer and therefore was a bit quicker at the end of the stint.
“We tried all we could today and I think it was very close, especially the first pit-stop. I didn't expect it to be that close, so maybe I should have pushed a bit harder on the out-lap, but obviously it's tricky here as you try to look after the tyres.
“Nico was on new softs [in the second stint] as well – we tried to save a set yesterday but, unfortunately, they did as well. I think it helped, and we did all that we could obviously, but it is incredibly difficult the closer you get. All the time, I was something like 1.5secs [back], unfortunately falling away to 1.8-2.0secs at the pit-stop. I tried desperately to get within the DRS but I couldn't.”
The safety car that eventually brought the race to a close could have worked both ways for Vettel, bringing him closer to Rosberg, but also allowing the faster Raikkonen – who had been closing on the German anyway – to latch onto his tail.
“I think I was in control,” Vettel maintained, “I would have liked to have kept on racing as I think it would have been close but, in the end, I still had a decent gap [to make up].
Despite accepting third place – and his third straight podium as a Ferrari driver – Vettel found positives in the weekend.
“All in all, I think it was a good race for us, to be able to put a bit of pressure on [Mercedes] again at the beginning of the race,” he noted, “At the end, I think they were too quick and pulling away - Nico had a sequence of really, really quick lap times and we couldn't do that. I am happy that we are significantly closer than four weeks ago [and] if we keep doing that and keep getting closer to the point where we are a challenge for these guys. I'm looking forward to it...”