Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel is targeting a return to the podium after narrowly missing out in the Chinese Grand Prix. And a glance at the drivers’ championship table shows that, without the extra seven points he gained controversially by taking the win in Malaysia despite team orders not to, he would now by second behind Kimi Raikkonen with arch rival Fernando Alonso just two points behind him, having recovered from his retirement in the Sepang.
Knowing that they didn’t have the pace in Shanghai, the Red Bull driver chose a different strategy to the Ferraris, Lotus and Mercedes which meant he didn’t set a time in the final part of qualifying, which allowed him to choose the tyre compound that he would start the race on.
The German lined up ninth on the medium tyre, with everyone else in front of him – except McLaren’s Jenson Button – starting on the softs.
Vettel managed his tyres in the race while making steady progress and found himself fourth after his final pit stop, where he changed to a set of soft tyres to ensure he used both compounds during the race.
Despite being 12 seconds down on Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in third with four laps to go, Vettel used the faster, newer rubber to catch his rivals but two minor mistakes on the final lap saw him miss a podium by just 0.2 seconds.
“It’s a shame, I’m a little bit disappointed not to get on the podium because there’s nothing for fourth but there’s a trophy for third,” Vettel said. “The team obviously told me that there was quite a big gap, but there was also a gap to the car behind so [I thought] why not [try to catch him]?
“When I came onto the long straight for the first time and saw Lewis at the hairpin, I thought I was too far away, but we had more speed on the tyres. It’s a little disappointing to lose out at the end. A few more corners and we could’ve tried something.”
Vettel saw his lead in the drivers’ championship cut to three points over Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen with Chinese Grand Prix race winner Fernando Alonso a further six points adrift.
The German lost time behind Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg in the first stint and only started catching the leaders when he jumped his countryman at the stops.
He added: “Our strategy seemed to work today. We knew it was crucial to get clear laps at the start, but we did not. I was behind Nico and if you follow another car too much it’s bad for the tyres. It was hard to find the right compromise.”
However he conceded that his Red Bull didn’t have the pace to match Alonso.
“I think Fernando was too quick and if you look at the strategy they started in clean air and did most of the race in clean air whereas I was a bit held up,” he said. “[I’m] not blaming anything or anyone, it’s just how it is when you start a little bit further back.
“With a few more clean laps in the beginning we could have had a chance but would, could, should; three guys were better today so I hope to be back on the podium next week.”
* Analysis of whether Vettel’s strategy worked in China will be included in the UBS Race Strategy Report coming up soon today on JA on F1.