Sebastian Vettel admits he was surprised by his recovery drive in the Formula 1 French Grand Prix and reckons his charge through the field was aided by a strong headwind. 

Despite being forced to pit on the first lap of the race and receiving a five-second time penalty for causing a Turn 1 collision with Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes, the Ferrari driver recovered to finish fifth at Paul Ricard, though he lost the championship lead as title rival Lewis Hamilton won. 

There had been concerns heading into the weekend that the choice of layout at Ricard - featuring a chicane half way along the Mistral straight - would result in a lack of overtaking, but Vettel charged from 17th to fifth in just 15 laps. 

French GP - Driver Ratings

"Obviously I was out of position but I was surprised to be honest," Vettel explained. “I think it was to do with quite a strong headwind we had fom the east end of the track going to the west end down the long straight.

“I think that was helping a lot because we were gaining a lot in the second part of the straight, which obviously made the tow quite strong. If the wind was the other way around I think it would have been more difficult.”

Vettel believes Ferrari’s performance at Paul Ricard shows the progress his team made in its bid to overcome the tyre issues it encountered at the Spanish Grand Prix, with Pirelli bringing thinner tread rubber to races in Spain, France and Great Britain amid fears of high degradation and severe blistering. 

“I think we had no problems with the tyres,” Vettel added. Kimi [Raikkonen] was able to sort of stay with that [lead] group. It proved that our strategy was a good call. 

“For Kimi, he did more than 30 laps with the ultrasoft. Where I would have been, I don't know is the answer, because I had a different race after the first lap. 

“We were a lot better than in Barcelona. We have made progress and hopefully we can keep learning. I would have loved to have a different result, but we move on."