Sebastian Vettel has said that while his third qualifying defeat of the season to team-mate Daniel Ricciardo is “not to my liking”, he has to accept that “if he’s quicker than me, he’s quicker, nothing else.”
After losing out to his new team-mate in Australia, where he was dumped out in Q2 as Ricciardo went on to claim a front-row start, and then suffering the same fate in Bahrain, where he again exited qualifying in the second phase, Vettel has again struggled against the Australian here in China.
Despite easing through Q1 and Q2 ahead of Ricciardo, Vettel could not find the extra burst of pace need to seal the deal in the final 10 minutes and Ricciardo surged ahead of his team-mate with his final run to claim second place on the grid, beating Vettel out by just under half a second.
Afterwards, a magnanimous Vettel admitted that Ricciardo currently has the upper hand on merit alone.
“Daniel is doing a very good job, he has not just had one good weekend, he had good weekends and so far he seems to be able to get the maximum out of the car,” said the four-time champion who will line up third for tomorrow’s Chinese Grand Prix. “On my side, maybe I’m struggling a little bit more, but at the end of the day we have the same car, so if he manages to beat me, then he beats me on the circuit, fair and square. Of course, that’s not to my liking but equally, I know that I have to do a little bit better.”
Vettel continued by saying that he feels that improvements made in testing in Bahrain recently have improved his feeling fro the RB10, but he added that there is “a still a long way to go”.
“All in all I’ve felt happier this weekend,” he said. “We’ve made some improvements. The test after Bahrain helped on that front. But there is still a long way to go. Obviously a lot of things have changed but I don’t think that’s the reason for today’s performance. I would have loved to have got a bit more out of the last qualifying (the top 10 shootout) but I think I struggled a bit more than the front two.”
However, asked to detail the areas of the car that he is currently struggling with Vettel was cagey.
“I don’t want to blame anything on the car,” he said. “There are a lot of things that have changed, I don’t need to tell you. The cars are very different, everything underneath the body is very, very different, so I think there is a lot of work to be done to get it back to where I want it.”
Ricciardo, meanwhile, is looking increasingly confident and after landing his second front-row start of the year said that the fact that he has settled into the team quickly has helped his performance.
“I couldn’t have settled into the team any better to be honest, they made me feel at home very quickly and it’s helping me,” he said. “I’m really enjoying the driving and it seems to be showing with the results. I’m really pleased. The team is closing the gap to the front and we’re getting better each race.”
He admitted too that he had struggled in the early part of today’s qualifying session.
“To be honest, I struggled a bit throughout the session, at least personally I didn’t feel like I was getting on top of the conditions,” he said. “But then the last set of inters, right at the end of Q3, we managed to get a bit more out of it and I put a good lap together, so pretty pleased to be on the front row.
“It’s a challenging circuit, especially when a bit of water falls on the track it always makes it more challenging wherever you are,” he added. “And there’s a few places across the track here where there’s a tarmac change and you get quite a big difference in grip through some of these corners – so trying to basically find the right line and the best way to drive around, particularly these trickier parts of the track with tarmac changes, is a bit complex. Took a bit of time to understand that but I think we got it in the end.”
Ricciardo’s growing confidence, his ability to apparently match and outstrip Vettel’s usually impeccable one-lap pace and the champion’s obvious discomfort with the 2014-spec Red Bull add up to perhaps the biggest challenge he has yet faced. When it was later remarked that his body language and demeanour suggested he was somewhat downbeat, Vettel didn’t deny it.
“You know, I’m thinking a lot about the car. There are a lot of things going on in my head, maybe that’s why,” he said. “Formula One has got very complex and as a driver I think we have lost a lot of features, let’s say, and given a lot to the engineers, so it’s not that easy to understand and stay on top of everything. That’s why I think maybe I’m thinking more about the car in the last couple of years.
“Of course I’m not happy,” he concluded. “I’m not here to finish third in qualifying or second, or behind my team-mate. Generally I’d love to… I’m here to win. As I said before, [Daniel’s] doing good. We have the same car and if he’s quicker than me, he’s quicker, nothing else. Maybe the car is not the way I like 100 per cent but I’m trying to work on that but for now, if the result is like this, I have to accept it.”