Sebastian Vettel believes that he deserved to join the two Mercedes drivers on the podium at the British Grand Prix, despite not being a factor in the top three battle until the closing laps.
After a disappointing qualifying session saw Ferrari out-gunned by Williams in the battle for row two of the grid, a fast start by both the Grove team's cars ensured that Vettel and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen were fighting over fifth at best – and even then had their hands full with assorted Red Bulls and Force Indias.
Although the first round of pit-stops helped shuffle some semblance of normality into the order, Vettel still trailed fifth-placed Raikkonen until rain reached Silverstone, causing a degree of confusion amongst the strategists. With second stops imminent, the question became 'when' and the debate over what tyre centred on slicks or intermediates rather than medium or hard Pirelli.
Raikkonen was among the first to jump, and was penalised as it proved too early for intermediates, but Vettel chose his time a little more wisely, joining race leader Lewis Hamilton in switching to the grooved rubber at just the right time to leap-frog both the Williams ahead of him.
“Without the rain, we would not have been on the podium,” he openly conceded, “And even then, we kept our heads down, and were really patient to wait until the rain properly started to pour down. We made the right choice and came in on the perfect lap.
“I had a bad start, although we more or less came back to fifth and six, but, by then, the gap was too big to the cars in front. Then there was some rain around turns 6-7, around Luffield, but it was only there, so it was quicker to stay out on dries. It was a tough call to make as, if it rains, yes there were already some cars that were pitting and you obviously think about it but, if the circuit is largely dry, there is no point.
“Then I came out of Chapel and, coming down Hangar Straight, I noticed a lot more rain - I was trying to look at the clouds for some laps before and it was significantly more intense then, not just drizzle but proper rain - so I decided to box. When I was in the box, I was told that the leader had decided to pit as well, so I though 'okay, it was a good call'.”
Asked whether he had lucked into a top three finish on a weekend where Ferrari clearly had the fifth and sixth best cars, Vettel insisted that there was no fortune involved in the crucial decision.
“It's not a Christmas gift,” he claimed, “Santa Claus wasn't there on the way into the pits, and he didn't tell me which lap to dive into the pits either. It was our decision and, obviously, not a lot of people got it right. That was our choice and it's what we achieved today.”
The podium aside, however, Vettel acknowledged that Ferrari hadn't been the Mercedes challenger it had been earlier in the year, but insisted there was no need to panic.
“It wasn't a good weekend for us, as we expected to be stronger and we were surprised by the pace of Williams on Saturday in qualifying and also on Sunday,” he confirmed, “You could see it wasn't a good weekend for us as the gap to the top was larger than previous events, but I don't think it's a setback. We just couldn't find the right direction this weekend and, obviously, if you are not P1 and P2, it's quite tight between us and Williams and Red Bull.”