A change of strategy could not prevent Sebastian Vettel's Brazilian Grand Prix being an uneventful one that resulted in a 13th trip to the podium as chief support to the Mercedes duo.
While Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton sprinted off into their own duel – ironically one that left the Briton lamenting his team's rigidity when it came to strategy – Vettel was left clinging to the hope that fitting another set of soft Pirellis mid-race would allow him to break the hegemony. In the end, however, traffic and the superior pace of the Mercedes over the 71 laps left the German to run by himself for much of the time, before eventually coming home 14secs shy of the winner.
“Obviously, we were too far away to really put pressure on Mercedes but safe from the cars behind, so we thought we would try something different and put the soft tyres on,” he explained, “We were very happy on the soft, probably happier than we were on the medium, but, unfortunately, we had quite a lot of traffic to make any advantage count.
“The idea was just to do something different – we knew the soft wouldn't go as far, but it was quicker in the end, so it was fair enough to try. We were catching a little bit, but it is hard to say how much Nico was controlling [the pace] with Lewis behind. Being in the lead is always a bit different…”
Despite having to accept third place for the seventh time in 18 races, Vettel insisted that there were encouraging signs to take from the race, in which Ferrari also took fourth position with Kimi Raikkonen.
“I think it was a good race for us,” Vettel claimed, “I was hoping that, at the start, we could do something, but it wasn't possible. The start was okay, but it wasn't any better than Lewis' or Nico's… After that, I thought, halfway through the first stint, that maybe we could stay with them, but then they started to pull away.
“Overall, we have to admit that they were just a bit quicker, but I think that we were probably a bit closer here than at many races before in terms of race pace, maybe just one, two, three-tenths at a time. I think, in the last stint, we were maybe even a bit quicker, so it felt like a good race but, for sure, not very exciting as we were in No Man's Land and didn't have anyone to fight with. Hopefully, at the next race, we can again be a bit closer…”
Finishing third while Rosberg won ended Vettel's pursuit of second place in the drivers' standings but he is comfortably ahead of fourth-placed Valtteri Bottas with one race to go and will again finish as 'best of the rest' behind the Silver Arrows pilots.