Sebastian Vettel reckons he could have been starting further up the Austrian Grand Prix grid had he been prepared to take more risks on a drying track in the last part of rain-affected qualifying.
Although he eventually would up fourth-fastest in Q3, a gearbox-related penalty will drop the four-time world champion down to ninth on the final grid, two places behind the similarly punished Nico Rosberg, but five behind Ferrari team-mate and eight adrift of polesitter Lewis Hamilton.
Vettel had topped the final practice session earlier in the day, taking advantage of Rosberg's accident - which led to a gearbox change - and Hamilton's early tyre woes, but could not repeat the feat when it mattered more, lapping fully two-tenths off the reigning world champion as the track dried in Q3 following a late Q2 rain shower.
“Good pace in final practice - one-two - but didn't follow through in qualifying. Where did session get away from Ferrari?
“I think, in the end, it was a lucky draw, a question of how much risk you were taking, when you were crossing the line, the later the better,” the German reflected after posting a 1m 09.781s best to compare with Hamilton's 1m 07.922s benchmark, “In these conditions, the only reference is the lap before and then taking into consideration that it's drier on the next lap. How much, though, you don't know.
“With hindsight, I wasn't taking enough risk but, then again, I think all three cars that were ahead were taking more
risks, and they were behind me on track so arguably had better track conditions as well. That's not an excuse, that's a fact – but, as I said, I should have taken more risk. In the end it came down to one lap, which is basically the way Q3 went.”
While the ten-car shoot-out field took different approaches to the drying conditions, Vettel does not necessarily believe he was hampered by the timing of his change to slick rubber.
“We decided last-minute, [but] it was quite tricky because it was still very wet when we came in in some places,” he explained, “Really, until the last lap, that was the only full dry lap - or full dry line on the track - at least for me. It was a tricky call, but I think the fact the sun came out helped a lot and it was drying very quickly considering that there were only ten cars going round not 22.”
Vettel and Ferrari – as well as Red Bull and a couple of others – had earlier paved their way for Sunday's race by posting their fastest Q2 times on the supersoft Pirelli, where Mercedes relied on the less durable ultrasoft before making a late switch. Whether the ploy pays off for Vettel and co won't be known until the race gets underway, and the German is already wary of mixed forecasts for the Styrian region.
“How big an advantage is it to start on supersofts rather than ultrasofts in case it's dry? I don't know,” he admitted, “We think it's an advantage otherwise we would have gone for the ultrasoft. I think other people had the same thought, some succeeded and others didn't if you look at the running in Q2. Some had two runs, we decided to do it in one run.”
“If it's dry, I'm happy I'm on the supersoft; if it's wet, I think it could be easier to make progress. But, then again, who knows what the weather is going to be like? They say it's going to be cooler and there's a likelihood of rain, I think the latest forecast reckons there's a high chance that the race will be completely dry, so I don't know.”