Sebastian Vettel has established himself as Lewis Hamilton's main rival for the 2015 F1 drivers' championship, although the German must acknowledge that he will probably be too late to deny the Mercedes man.

While Hamilton claimed his ninth win of the season, further reliability problems for Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg allowed Vettel to finish second in the Russian Grand Prix, at the same time moving into a similar position in the overall standings. Indeed, Vettel had made up enough ground in recent weeks to be able to overtake Rosberg even if he had finished behind Williams Valtteri Bottas in Sochi. Having survived a couple of close scrapes with team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, the German passed Bottas during the lone round of pit-stops to run a relatively lonely race and maximise his fourth podium finish in a row.

"I think it was a very good race - the car was fantastic and just kept getting better," the German enthused, "At some point, I was hoping there might be a slight chance to catch Lewis, but he had so much pace in hand and I don't think he was really pushing at the end."

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Although Ferrari's bid to keep Mercedes from clinching the constructors' title in Russia went awry when Kimi Raikkonen punted Valtteri Bottas out of third place, Vettel ensured that the individual crown cannot be decided until at least the next round in Austin, where Hamilton needs to score nine points more than the German to secure the title.

"Obviously, it would have been nice to have had both cars up on the podium, which I think was possible today, but I'm very happy with how the race went," Vettel continued, "I hope [this signals a title fight next year] - that's our target. We want to be a bit better in the race and make sure we give some really good challenge to the Mercedes. Currently, they are still a bit ahead, but I think we're doing a very good job, focusing on ourselves and gaining step by step, getting a bit closer. I think we are in a good direction."