Sebastian Vettel says taking advantage of Ferrari’s straight-line speed advantage over Formula 1 rival Mercedes was “key” to staying ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the Japanese Grand Prix.

Hamilton chased down Vettel’s Ferrari in the closing stages of Sunday’s race at Suzuka on fresher Soft tyres having made his second pit stop later than the German, who was running on the slower Medium compound.

But some tactical driving by Vettel to manage his tyres and benefit from Ferrari’s supreme power compared to Mercedes along the straights helped him beat Hamilton to second place at Suzuka.

“I enjoyed the battle but I knew that I was a bit of a sitting duck because I was quite slow in the corners and very fast in the straights,” Vettel said.

“So I just tried to play my advantage and that worked. I’m sure Lewis didn’t enjoy that as much but in the end it was key to stay ahead, despite being slower.

“Overall, we had a great chance today starting first and second and obviously after the first couple of metres that chance was gone, after that it would be difficult to turn it around and we just couldn’t go with them - they were much faster, especially in the end.”

Vettel said he was surprised Mercedes opted to give up track position by switching Hamilton onto a two-stop strategy in the hope of benefitting from fresher, Soft tyres.

“I was surprised to be honest when they pitted,” he added.

“I expected him to stay out and try the one stop. Once I knew that, Valtteri was so far away so I knew it was not possible to catch him, so when Lewis came out I wasn’t rushing to try and open the gap.

"I was trying to keep my tyres somehow fresh to make sure that if he arrives, everything is still in good shape and I have a chance to have good corner exits and use the advantage we have down the straights which worked.

“It got a bit close once with traffic but other than that I think it was quite good.

“I was quite happy when I saw the chequered flag as I didn’t want to do another five laps like that but in the places he couldn’t pass I just tried to take it easy to maintain the tyres.”