Sebastian Vettel described his recovery drive to the Austrian Grand Prix Formula 1 podium as “damage limitation” but felt the result was largely determined by tyre management. 

The Ferrari driver, who started sixth following a post-qualifying grid penalty, took advantage of retirements for Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas on his way to claiming the final spot on the Spielberg rostrum.   

Vettel headed into the weekend with a 14-point deficit to Hamilton but a loss of fuel pressure forced his chief title rival into his first retirement since the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix, meaning it is the German who leaves Austria with a one-point advantage. 

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He explained that following an early Virtual Safety Car period it became apparent the race would be one of attrition as a number of drivers struggled with unexpected levels of blistering.

“For us it was pretty much damage limitation but I think the pace was very good, the tyre management was good, so a positive day,” Vettel said. “It could have been better but a well deserved win for Max.

“I thought I was taking it a little bit easy in the beginning because I was anyways a bit further back. I didn’t understand in the beginning obviously the necessity to close as soon as possible. 

“I think I had a bit of pace in hand – but, you know, I looked down, I saw the pit-board as well and there was 55 laps from the time the VSC ended. I tried to save tyres and make sure we make it to the end.

“I could have done a bit better with a bit more information – but nothing dramatic.,” he added. “We did a right thing. There were a lot of signs that the tyres don’t last, but ours did last, that was a strong point. The car was good, the race pace was strong. It was a good recovery but ideally we don’t have to recover every time.”

Along with the Red Bull duo and teammate Raikkonen, Vettel took advantage of the VSC to dive into the pitlane, while Mercedes instead opted to keep Hamilton out. The decision proved costly and ultimately saw Hamilton return to the circuit narrowly ahead of Vettel after he made his mandatory stop. 

Vettel closed in as Hamilton began to struggle with rear tyre wear and pulled off a superb overtake on the run to Turn 3, putting one wheel on the grass as the Briton attempted to cover off the inside line.

When asked about the wheel-to-wheel battle, Vettel said the move had reminded him of a similarly brilliant pass on Fernando Alonso at the 2011 Italian Grand Prix. 

“I benefitted a bit from the backmarker, so I got really close down the main straight and then he had a bit of a lock up into Turn 1, which gave me a good run into Turn 3 and then I knew I had to find a way on the inside,” he explained. 

“It was very, very close and reminded me a bit of Fernando [Alonso] a couple of years ago in Monza, using parts of the grass but once I had the inside it was great to get ahead, which I didn’t expect. 

“I expected him with the fresher set to come out and go through the field. He struggled and it was good to put pressure on him straight away when there was a chance.”

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