Sebastian Vettel says he must take the blame for failing to take advantage of a constantly evolving Monaco Grand Prix after deciding to pit, first, for intermediate tyres, and then take the soft Pirelli over other slick options.
The German started and finished in fourth position in the blue riband event, but endured an eventful afternoon in between, with race positions changing with the conditions, which started very wet and then proceeded to dry, before rain arrived during the final lap. The biggest questions were over when to forsake the full wet-weather Pirellis mandated by starting behind the safety car, and what to take in their place. The majority of the field, including Vettel, went to the halfway house provided by the intermediate before taking the obvious decision later in the race that slicks were the only option to get to the chequered flag. Others, notably racewinner Lewis Hamilton, however, hung on to their wets until it was opportune to go straight to slicks.
“We were aggressive on the first stop, which was the right call, but, at that point, I need to find a way past Felipe [Massa] which I didn't and that cost us quite a lot,” Vettel reflected after rejoining the race behind the still wet-shod Williams, “It cost us all the momentum to the leaders, and that is the reason why we were then all tangled up with that group around the pit-stop for dries.
“If I clear Felipe at that point in the beginning, then we are more focused on the first two positions, to get those rather than worry about a podium, so that is where we lost the momentum, lost the race.
“We did the right call and, if the Williams pits when it was time for him to pit, it looks a lot different. That is my bet… If I find a way past, we [would have] caught the group of Rosberg on the extremes, they pit and we keep on catching the leaders - at that point on extreme tyres - because we were on intermediates on a drying track. But it didn't happen… It was a missed opportunity which I accept and mostly blame myself.”
Once it was time to ditch the intermediate rubber, however, Vettel reckoned that he made another error in assuming that the supersoft and ultrasoft Pirelli slicks would not last through the second half of the race, as both Hamilton and second-placed Daniel Ricciardo were asking them to do.
“I thought they were both on the ultrasofts, and I expected them to run into trouble, maybe at that point thinking they have to stop again anyway,” the four-time world champion explained, “Especially because the track was damp, green, usually you struggle a little bit more, but both of them seemed to be fine to the end.
“We did the right call to go on the softs, as it was the quicker tyre until the end. We closed the gap gradually to the leaders but, at that point, they were one stop ahead, so [there was] no chance to catch them unless they do another stop which, unfortunately, they didn't.”
Despite his obvious frustration, Vettel acknowledged the role his team played in helping him leap-frog the likes of Rosberg and get to the finish in fourth place, even if he was unable to do anything about Sergio Perez's similarly-shod Force India in the battle for the final podium spot.
“The team did a great job to recover, and it was a great pit-stop to get us in front of the Mercedes,” he noted, “After that, we were quicker than the Force India.
“I was not too bothered initially to catch him because the race was still long, and I wasn't sure that the leaders would still make it to the end of the race on the ultrasoft. Once it was clear [that they would], I tried to close the gap – I nearly lost the car once, but I had to try. We were around a second quicker than Sergio, but couldn't really get past. The car was definitely quick enough to go quicker or better than the way we finished, but that is also Monaco – it is not that easy to overtake.”